What is a Cinquain Poem?


Cinquains are five-line poems in three basic patterns created originally by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) based on the Japanese 17-syllable Haiku. She did not originate the five-line poem, but instead altered it for starkness associated with the Haiku. Crapsey wrote 28 of them. While the form never has become the mainstream of American verse, it is an unusual poetic type that restricts the poet to very few words, thus making it a hard form to master, but beautiful to read.


  • The cinquains follow one of the following formats. The first is that each line has successively more words except the fifth. The first line has one word, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the fifth back to one.
    An example of this type from Thomas D. Greer follows:
    lather, scrape, rinse,
    drowsy repetition.
    Two sons stand crowding at the door,
    Greer also, like many uses of the form, string several cinquains together into one poem.


  • In the second type, each line has a type of word. The first has a noun, the second two adjectives, the third three words ending in "ing," the fourth a phrase and the fifth a noun.


  • In the third type, each line has successive syllables. The first has two syllables, the second four, the third six, the fourth eight and the last two.
    An example from Jeanne Cassler:
    First Visit to the Ocean
    She's lost
    inside her laugh
    before the rising tide
    that reaches out to tickle her
    bare toes.


  • Crapsey wrote 28 of these cinquains. Here a couple examples:
    November Night
    Listen . . .
    With faint dry sound,
    Like steps of passing ghosts,
    The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
    And fall.

    The Guarded Wound
    If it
    Were lighter touch
    Than petal of flower resting
    On grass, oh still too heavy it were,
    Too heavy!


  • While the cinquain remains an obscure poetry form, it is still used. Teachers also sometimes use them to teach words and grammar, but these types don't usually fit the aesthetic of the forms original intentions.

  • Photo Credit Shawn M. Tomlinson
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