Poetry Form - The Pantoum


The Pantoum Verse Form
by Ariadne Unst

* History. * Form. * Your Composition. * References. * Example.

Do you want a form that unfolds memories of the past, of a slower time? Then the Pantoum with its dreamy and enchanting repetitions may be the form you need.

The Pantoum originated in France, based on a form from Malaya. The Pantoum's name and form derive from the Malayan pantun.

If you enjoy the music inherent in forms with refrains, also see the Triolet and the Villanelle.

History.

Historically, the Pantoum became popular in Europe and later North America in the nineteeth and especially the twentieth century.

The Pantoum tradition as a poem first appeared in France, in the work of Ernest Fouinet in the nineteenth century. Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire made the form fashionable. For more on this history and for examples of the Pantoum, see The Making of a Poem, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.

Examples include:

Form.

[Note: in the Malayan, the pantun follows the same rhyme and line patterns as the Pantoum. But pantun is traditionally improvised; the first two lines of each quatrain present an image or an allusion; the second two lines of each quatrain convey the theme and meaning, and may not have an obvious connection with the first two lines.]

In a traditional Pantoum:

Your Composition.

The repetition in a Pantoum made this form popular with audiences. The repetition allowed the listener to catch the poem more clearly at first hearing or first reading.

Here are some steps to take in composing one:

  1. Draft the first quatrain. Be sure to use the Pantoum's rhyme scheme. [When you have experience in writing the Pantoum, consider using the additional structure offered by the Pantun.]

  2. Layout the lines that will repeat - the second and fourth lines go to their positions in the framework of the second quatrain, while the first and third lines hold places in what will become the final stanza.

  3. Construct your second stanza.

  4. Layout the second and fourth lines of that quatrain in the framework of the next quatrain.

  5. Continue with these steps. Be sure to follow the above guidelines for form.

  6. When you are approaching the desired length for you Pantoum, start looking for lines that fit in your current quatrain and can also work in the final quatrain.

  7. Like packing an inflated helium balloon into a suitcase, tussle with modifying the repeated sentences to tug the poem into shape.

  8. As with all formal poems nowadays, it is vital that the form does not "drive" your poem. If the rhyme scheme and form begin to feel forced, then you must assert the poem's content.

A Last Word

Just because you start with the intention of writing a Pantoum, you do not have to keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide that you choose to end up with a poem in a different form, perhaps even a prose poem.

Books

Buy Strand The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. Additional recommended books of Poetry Form.

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