In the last article on poetic form, we looked at the Villanelle Poem.
This week we’ll look at a flexible form that gives poets a lot of control over the emotion or stories they want to share through prose. The quatrain poem. To showcase the works created from these series, our writing member community will have the opportunity of being featured here and on our substack site.
To submit your prose from last week’s Villanelle introduction or this article, make sure to join our writing adventure to submit your poem.
A stanza in a quatrain poem consists of four lines with fifteen possible rhyming schemes. One stanza can be considered the complete poem or part of a longer prose. It affords the writer to mix and match the rhyming scheme and line length as well as chain stanzas together.
One writer of the past used this form extensively to share his visions with the world. The 16th-century prophet Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus) used this form to deliver his famous prophecies.
Quand on viendra le grand Roy parenter
Avant qu’il ait du tout. Pâme rendue :
Celuy qui moins le viendra lamenter.
Par Lyons, d’Aigles, croix, couronne vendue.
- The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus
A more current poet also used the quatrain form in most of her work, Emily Dickinson.
- The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death –— abcb
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
Do you see the pattern in the above two poems taking form?
The Quatrain Structure
With the Quatrain form, there are fifteen different rhyming schemes, with the most in the following patterns:
- abba (envelope rhyme)
- aaba, bbcb, ccdc, dddd (chained rhyme)
Each stanza normally follows the same pattern, but it doesn’t have to. And as mentioned earlier, a single stanza can be the entire poem. Due to the quatrain flexibility, it is an excellent form to produce a myriad of emotions and truths for your readers.
When writing multiple quatrains, some poets use a certain structure in addition to the rhyming scheme. They create a poetic story by setting each quatrain to take the reader from the opening to the conclusion, just like in short story writing.
The Quatrain Sequence
- one, the subject.
- develops the theme.
- sums the theme up.
One example of this is seen in Robert Frost’s poem, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.” Not only does he use the above sequence, but also follows an “abab” rhyming pattern throughout.
In the first quatrain, he sets up the poem’s subject. It revolves around people and the sea. Everyone loves the ocean and is drawn to it, no matter where they’re from. We can all relate.
The people along the sand (a)
All turn and look one way. (b)
They turn their back on the land. (a)
They look at the sea all day. (b)
Next, the theme. A ship in the distance and the waves it rides upon.
As long as it takes to pass (a)
A ship keeps raising its hull; (b)
The wetter ground like glass (a)
Reflects a standing gull (b)
Then he ties into the above stanza to sum up the theme. Even though the land has more variety, the sea, with its waves beating on the shore, mesmerizes us all.
The land may vary more; (a)
But wherever the truth may be— (b)
The water comes ashore, (a)
And the people look at the sea. (b)
And the conclusion. Only certain things can be found at sea, which draws us all to it. It’s the unseen that peak our interest.
They cannot look out far. (a)
They cannot look in deep. (b)
But when was that ever a bar (a)
To any watch they keep? (b)
Other poets who used this form in their work include:
- Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam
- Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
If you’re up to it, I challenge you to write a poem using this form and submit your creation. If you accept, use the phrase “Quatrain Poem” for the name of the series in the form.
Leave a comment, as I enjoy hearing from each of you.