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Tinker

Pantoum

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
French Verse

The Pantoum is a "slinky going down a flight of stairs--it is smooth, fluid, and repetitious....Its repetition and circular quality give it a mystical chant-like feeling. Its cut-up lines break down linear thought. The form is both ancient and fresh." Miriam Sagan, The Unbroken Line. I just couldn't come up with a better way to say that.

This stanzaic form was introduced by Ernest Fouinet and made popular by Victor Hugo in 19th century France as a variation of the Malaysian Pantun. The Pantoum imitates its Malaysian inspiration only in the use of the quatrain and rhyme scheme. From that point it is more similar to the French Rondeau and/or the Villanelle than the Southeast Asian form.

Because of the repetition of lines the Pantoum requires that the lines are complete. The poem moves back and forth which is more conducive to lyrical verse rather than a narrative.  The repetitive pattern of lines is the defining feature of the form.

The elements of the Pantoum are:

  1. accentual syllabic verse, most commonly iambic tetrameter or iambic pentameter, but the number of metric feet is unimportant as long as the lines are all the same length.
  2. stanzaic, written in any number of quatrains.
  3. repetitious. All lines of the poem will be repeated once. L2 and L4 of each stanza is repeated as L1 and L3 of the succeeding stanza. L1 and L3 of the 1st stanza is repeated in reverse as L2 and L4 of the last stanza ending the poem on the same line as it began. (It is permissible, but less common, to use the L1 and L3 of the 1st quatrain in the same order as originally written to end the poem with L3 of the 1st quatrain.)
  4. usually rhymed, the Pantoum employs alternate rhyme with a rhyme scheme of A¹ B¹A²B² B¹C1B²C² C¹D¹C²D² D¹E¹D²E² . . . . . and so on until the last quatrain H¹A²H²A¹.
  5. flexible, a variation on the Pantoum is to substitute a rhyming couplet of L1 and L3 from the 1st quatrain to end the poem instead of ending in a quatrain.
    In the Sultan's Garden by Clinton Scollard (1860-1932)

    She opened the portal of the palace,
    she stole into the garden's gloom;
    From every spotless snowy chalice
    The lilies breathed a sweet perfume.

    She stole into the garden's gloom,
    She thought that no one would discover;
    The lilies breathed a sweet perfume,
    She swiftly ran to meet her lover.

    She thought that no one would discover,
    But footsteps followed ever near;
    She swiftly ran to meet her lover
    Beside the fountain crystal clear.

    But footsteps followed ever near;
    Ah, who is that she sees before her
    Beside the fountain crystal clear?
    'Tis not her hazel-eyed adorer.

    Ah, who is that she sees before her,
    His hand upon his scimitar?
    'Tis not her hazel-eyed adorer,
    It is her lord of Candahar!

    His hand upon his scimitar,
    Alas, what brought such dread disaster!
    It is her lord of Candahar,
    The fierce Sultan, her lord and master.

    Alas, what brought such dread disaster!
    "Your pretty lover's dead!" he cries
    The fierce Sultan, her lord and master.
    "'Neath yonder tree his body lies."

    "Your pretty lover's dead!" he cries
    (A sudden, ringing voice behind him);
    "'Neath yonder tree his body lies"
    "Die, lying dog! go thou and find him!"

    A sudden, ringing voice behind him,
    A deadly blow, a moan of hate,
    "Die, lying dog! go thou and find him!
    Come, love, our steeds are at the gate!"

    A deadly blow, a moan of hate,
    His blood ran red as wine in chalice;
    "Come, love, our steeds are at the gate!"
    She oped the portal of the palace.

    The Wanderer's Return by Judi Van Gorder

    With song and adventure from far away,
    all our years you have wandered about,
    "How could you let him go?" they say,
    "for jobs and dreams and another route."

    All our years you have wandered about,
    when foreign shores sing to your heart,
    in jobs and dreams and another route,
    those distant lands can't keep us apart.

    When foreign shores sing to your heart,
    your spirit is the wind, wild and free.
    those distant lands can't keep us apart,
    I'm rooted and strong like our redwood tree.

    Your spirit is the wind, wild and free,
    yet in spring you travel home to me,
    I'm rooted and strong like our redwood tree
    where love is renewed, it's once again we,

    It's in spring you travel home to me,
    "how could you let him go?" they say,
    when love is renewed, it's once again we
    with song and adventure from far away.

    Seamrog by Judi Van Gorder

    Today 's a day for wearing green,
    St. Paddy, himself, would smile, agree.
    The shamrock 's worn, a token seen
    to teach about the Holy Three.

    St. Paddy, himself, would smile, agree,
    a slave with hope he grasped a star,
    to teach about the Holy Three,
    with faith his mission traveled far.

    A slave with hope he grasped a star
    and chased the serpents from the land,
    with faith his mission traveled far,
    in charity he took a stand.

    He chased the serpents from the land
    and now his message still is heard,
    in charity he took a stand,
    an act of love to share the Word,

    And now his message still is heard,
    the shamrock 's worn, a token seen
    an act of love to share the Word.
    Today 's, a day for wearing green.

    Seamrog, (Gaelic) shamrock
    Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh
    Happy St Patrick's Day

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