These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
A quatrain is a poem, or a stanza of a poem, consisting of 4 lines. As with the haiku we studied last week, I’m going to use the most basic examples of quatrains, and encourage you who are more advanced poets to seek out the more advanced and literary ones.
Quatrains should rhyme, but you can pick from any of several rhyme schemes. I’ll give a few examples from my poetry collection to illustrate some possibilities.
Here’s an (abcb) poem:
The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play
~Sarah N. Cleghorn
And here’s one that’s (aabb), by the humorist Willard Espy:
The man of thoughts profound resents
Us silly, superficial gents.
We do not care to hang around
The man who thinks his thoughts profound.
Now for an (abab) quatrain:
When late I attempted your pity to move,
What made you so deaf to my prayers?
Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love,
But why did you kick me downstairs?
And finally, an (abba) one:
In spring, a breeze blows from the west;
A breath as gentle as a sigh;
And with it, soft tears from the sky;
Relief at passing winter's test.
Notice that all of these are complete poems, mostly with a little “punch” at the end.
Like the haiku, 4-line quatrains are too short for Challenge entries, but there are several reasons for mastering the form:
1. It will give you a chance to practice the skills of rhyme and meter. If you’re not sure that your quatrain has a consistent meter, try counting the syllables in each line, and see if there’s a pattern. Then take it one step further, and see if there’s a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Another way of making sure you’ve got the meter down pat is to select a four-line hymn (like “Amazing Grace” or “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”) and to write a poem that can be sung to that tune.
2. As I mentioned above, many longer poems are made up of a series of quatrains. So if you can write one quatrain with satisfying rhyme and meter, you should be able to write a longer poem.
3. It’s a way to practice finding just the right word: in such a short form, you don’t want to have awkward or forced word constructions. You’ve got to make your point quickly and well.
4. Advanced poets—pick a literary term (metaphor, alliteration, imagery, irony…) and work on working it into a quatrain.
In last week’s lesson, I suggested that you might use haiku in the Challenge by writing them in a series (and someone did that for the last topic!), by having a character read one or write one, or by using a haiku to start or finish a devotional. You could do all of those same things with a quatrain. Can you think of other ways that a quatrain could be incorporated into a Writing Challenge entry?
Homework: Write a quatrain.
That’s easy enough, so I’d also encourage you to add your own comments, observations, questions, favorite quatrains from literature or from your previous writings…
It’s always my intention to respond to every post…I’ll try to get to yours as soon as possible!
A couple questions from a poetry novice:
So if I write an abab, then the a lines have to have the same syllables and have to rhyme (and the same with the b lines)?
And from what I see, meter is about the syllables, but is there anything else I'm missing with the word meter?
When did we begin to devour our own rather than fight for their lives? --TheDefenestrator
Oh, I just found your class about meter. I'm going to read that and answer my own question.
ETA: Nope doesn't come up. I'll try to find it in the files of the old classes you sent me.
When did we begin to devour our own rather than fight for their lives? --TheDefenestrator
I find my thoughts slip naturally into quatrains
(usually in the abab rhyming pattern)
Many of our old hymns are in this pattern.
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing it's worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
("Oh, How I Love Jesus" by Frederick Whitfield)
Here's my attempt to break my normal pattern.
It will not stop; it does not wait-
Pushing, pulsing, ticking forward,
I want to sit, to rest, to breathe,
Let the world keep marching onward.
(It's hard to do work with only 4 lines. You can do more with a series.)
Here's a longer poem I used for a Challenge with a series of quatrains:
Living in Forever
(As you can tell, the concepts of "time" and "eternity" facinates me.)
Hooray for jumping in, Vonnie!
Things that are great about this quatrain:
The repetition and alliteration in lines 1, 2, and 3
The slant rhym in lines 2 and 4
The "kick" at the end
That you tried a different pattern than your usual.
Okay, you're a gifted poet, so you get extra credit:
1. Write an (abba) poem, that is
Can't wait to read it!
You really know how to stretch a person!
Little Sally puffed and frowned;
Pulled up the top, stretched the pants,
Toothy smile and happy stance,
Wore her jammies upside down.
ARRGH !! That was hard!
Here’s my go at it. As far as comments, I found it difficult getting away from the structure and formality of the Haiku. The quatrain seems to allow for more freedom of movement (meter) and word length, tending me to wander and feel a bit floppy.
<i>Moonlight flickers through lowering clouds
Buttery patch of light on distant hills
Substance softens in night’s vapory chill
Day’s stark beauty surrenders – no longer proud.</i>
I just noticed something. Do the rhyming lines have to be both either singular or plural? If so, I flubbed this one.
"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." From "As You Like It." Wm. Shakespeare.
Loren, your rhymes are fine. There are some rhyme "purists" who would insist on exact rhymes every single time, but I am most definitely not one of them.
I think, however, that maybe I should have dealt more with meter, since quatrains usually have a fairly strict pattern of meter. And since Stephanie also asked, I'll do a quick mini-lesson on meter in my following post.
In some forms of poetry, it's imortant to have a regular METER pattern as well as a regular RHYME pattern.
Here's a familiar hymn, with the meter exaggerated for effect:
a MA zing GRACE how SWEET the SOUND
that SAVED a WRETCH like ME
i ONCE was LOST but NOW am FOUND
was BLIND but NOW i SEE
There are two things you can observe:
1. The pattern of syllables--in this case, there are (8,6,8,6), and
2. The pattern of STRESSED and unstressed syllables--in this case, they alternate.
Now, look at this familiar Christmas carol:
a WAY in a MAN ger no CRIB for a BED
the LIT tle lord JE sus laid DOWN his sweet HEAD
the STARS in the SKY look DOWN where he LAY
the LIT tle lord JE sus a SLEEP in the HAY
This one has a very different pattern, but it's still a definite pattern:
1. 11 syllables per line (the 3rd line has 10 when spoken, but 11 when sung), and
2. a pattern of STRESSED, unstressed, unstressed (with a "pick-up" syllable in the beginning)
So your quatrain should be the same way, and that's why I suggested seeing if you could sing it to a familiar tune. But even if you're not a singer...try saying it aloud, and REALLY EXAGGERATE the stressed syllables. Write down the pattern. If there's NO pattern, your poem needs tweaking.
Alright... Here is my attempt...
I am shaken and weak
I feel the darkness reaching around
I can almost not speak
I shall no longer hear any sound
11When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."
This is for my hubby who is watching the Dolphins play the Jets right now (rooting for the Dolphins!! )
They march across the field so green,
Hut one, Hut two, Hut three.
A battle on my TV screen,
Who will the winner be?
a,b,a,b and 9,6,9,6
Hope that's right
It's a great first attempt! You've got an (abab) rhyme pattern (weak, around, speak, sound) in a 4-line poem.
I think the meter could use a little tweak (I'll get to that in a minute), and I'm not sure that it works as a complete poem. There are too many unanswered questions: why are you in this condition? what happened? can it be fixed? So it seems more like the beginning of a longer poem, perhaps written in several quatrains--and that's fine.
Now, about the meter. If you didn't read my post in red, above, make sure you do that. If I count the syllables of your quatrain, I get (6,9,6,9)--great!
But when I look at the stressed and unstressed syllalbles, I get something like this:
i am SHA ken and WEAK
i feel the DARK ness REACH ing a ROUND
i can AL most not SPEAK
i shall NO long er HEAR an y SOUND
The problem is with lines 2 and 4, which "stumble" a bit, rhythmically.
Usually, when a quatrain has a long line and a short line, the long lines are 1 and 3, and the short ones are 2 and 4.
Care to try again? I'm very intrigued by this one, and would love to see it polished up...it's moody and interesting!
Actually, Cherie Ann, it's 8,6,8,6--but other than counting wrong, it's a great little quatrain. I love the repetition in the 2nd line, the image of the 3rd line, and the "kicker" in the 4th.
Incidentally, the 8,6,8,6 rhythm is very common--if you wanted to, you could sing your little poem to the tune of "Amazing Grace!"
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