Cinquain (pronounced /ˈsɪŋkeɪn/) is the general term for a class of poetic forms that employ a 5-line pattern. Within the class, there are several forms that are defined by specific rules and guidelines.
The cinquain form was invented by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey, inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka. In her 1915 collection titled Verse, published one year after her death, Crapsey included 28 cinquains.
Crapsey's cinquains utilized an increasing syllable count in the first four lines, namely two in the first, four in the second, six in the third, and eight in the fourth, before returning to two syllables on the last line. In addition, though little emphasized by critics, each line in the majority of Crapsey cinquains has a fixed number of stressed syllables, as well, following the pattern one, two, three, four, one. The most common metrical foot in her twenty-eight published examples is the iamb, though this is not exclusive. Lines generally do not rhyme. In contrast to the Eastern forms upon which she based them, Crapsey always titled her cinquains, effectively utilizing the title as a sixth line.
The form is illustrated by Crapsey's "November Night":
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
The Crapsey cinquain has subsequently seen a number of variations by modern poets, including:
The didactic cinquain is also closely related to the Crapsey cinquain. It is an informal cinquain widely taught in elementary schools and has been featured in, and popularized by, children's media resources, including Junie B. Jones and PBS Kids. This form is also embraced by young adults and older poets for its expressive simplicity. The prescriptions of this type of cinquain refer to word count, not syllables and stresses. Ordinarily, the first line is a one-word title, the subject of the poem; the second line is a pair of adjectives describing that title; the third line is a three word phrase that gives more information about the subject; the fourth line consists of four words describing feelings related to that subject; and the fifth line is a single word synonym or other reference for the subject from line one.
The form of the didactic cinquain can be seen in the following untitled poem by Aaron Toleos:
Loves to garden
Excitable, likes satisfying people
According to the same Japanese influence as the Crapsey cinquain, a number of more contemporary poets have devised other five line forms striving after the same tone and appeal.
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