The cinquain, also known as a quintain or quintet, is a poem or stanza composed of five lines. Examples of cinquains can be found in many European languages, and the origin of the form dates back to medieval French poetry.
The most common cinquains in English follow a rhyme scheme of ababb, abaab or abccb. Sixteenth and seventeenth-century poets such as Sir Philip Sidney, George Herbert, Edmund Waller, and John Donne frequently employed the form, creating numerous variations. Among the many cinquains written by Herbert is “The World,” which begins:
Love built a stately house, where Fortune came, And spinning fancies, she was heard to say That her fine cobwebs did support the frame, Whereas they were supported by the same; But Wisdom quickly swept them all away.
Other examples of the form include “To Helen” by Edgar Allen Poe, which begins:
Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicean barks of yore, That gently, o'er a perfumed sea, The weary, way-worn wanderer bore To his own native shore.
Adelaide Crapsey, an early twentieth-century poet, used a form of 22 syllables distributed among the five lines in a 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 pattern, respectively. Her poems share a similarity with the Japanese tanka, another five-line form, in their focus on imagery and the natural world.
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