Pantoum

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I am creating a series of posts as a handy reference of poetic forms and meter. The Spring 2016 issue of The Literary Nest includes a pantoum, so let us talk about that form.

According to all the sources, the Pantoum is derived from an ancient Malaysian folk poetic form. The most significant feature of this form is the interweaving of lines with certain repetition built in the design. This repetition gives the poem a feel of forward movement without losing the historical context, sort of keeping the memory alive.

A Pantoum contains four-line stanzas with the following rhyme scheme: lines 2 and 4 of the previous stanza are used as lines 1 and 3 of the next. The poem can have an indefinite number of stanzas. In the final stanza, lines three and one from the first stanza are repeated as the second and fourth (final) lines.  A perfect Pantoum contains four four-line stanzas. Let us illustrate the scheme by an example. I use Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire, to avoid the copyright issues. This poem does not circle back to the first line.

Structure Harmonie du soir by Charles Baudelaire
Stanza 1
A
B
C
D
Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Stanza 2
B
E
D
F
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.
Stanza 3
E
G
F
H
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.
Stanza 4
G
C (or I)
H
A (or J)
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige…
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

It is important to remember that the form should not “drive” the poem. If the form begins to restrict the expression of content, the poet can choose to change the form to fit the content. If you are inspired by the form, expect to practice a lot and have patience. I can’t wait to see more submissions of form poetry.

Some well-known Pantoum examples are:

“Something About the Trees” by Linda Pastan
“Parent’s Pantoum” by Carolyn Kizer
“Iva’s Pantoum” by Marilyn Hacker
“Pantoum of the Great Depression” by Donald Justice

 

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