Week Ten: The American Cinquain

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914)

The life of American poet Adelaide Crapsey was both brilliant and brief. Intensely interested in the metrics of poetry, Crapsey had great compact admiration for the meticulousness of the Japanese haiku, and developed her own version of the form, now known as the cinquain (sometimes referred to as the American cinquain to differentiate it from the several variations Crapsey’s original form inspired.) Literature–and poetry in particular–loves a tragic figure, and Crapsey’s fame came after her death from a terminal disease, from which she suffered for many years and greatly influenced the content and tone of her poems. Her first volume of poetry, Verse, was published in 1915.

“Amaze” from Verses (1915)

Variations of the Cinquain

The Didactic Cinquain

The most popular variation of Crapsey’s form is known as the Didactic Cinquain. In this form, words are counted instead of syllables, greatly simplifying the form. Along with the American haiku, didactic cinquains may be one of the first poetic forms you learn about in school. Certain grammatical elements are often assigned to each line to help students learn about grammar at the same time. For more on the didactic cinquain, visit Poet’s Collective.

Requirements of the Form


– Consists of a short title, followed by a single five-line stanza. The title is not repeated and can be seen as a sixth line. Lines are often enjambed.


– Poet’s choice. However, Crapsey’s cinquains commonly used potent imagery to convey intense mood or feeling.

Syllable Count

– Both syllables and metric feet are carefully counted. The syllable count by line is 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.


– Poet’s choice, but iambic is generally preferred in English. Since one iambic foot equals two syllables, it fits well within this form.


– Traditionally un-rhymed

Requirements Breakdown


[Line 1] Two syllables, one iambic foot
[Line 2] Four syllables, two iambic feet
[Line 3] Six syllables, three iambic feet
[Line 4] Eight syllables, four iambic feet
[Line 5] Two syllables, one iambic foot

The Cinquain

You see,
This form is not
As hard as it might be.
And once you get the hang of it,
It’s fun!

An Original Cinquain

Swimming lessons

For her
dark eyes are pools
for my fool eyes to swim
and all at once I feel I’m made
of waves

Links to Online Resources

Adelaide Crapsey – Poetry Foundation
Cinquain – Writer’s Digest
Cinquain – Wikipedia

2 thoughts on “Week Ten: The American Cinquain

  1. Pingback: Week Nineteen: Alphabet Poetry – Astra Poetica

  2. Pingback: The American Cinquain – Adam of the Universe

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