More often than not, you’ll also find that the final line of a pantoum is the same as the first line. This adds to the cyclical feeling these poems have. In some ways, the pantoum is similar to the villanelle. It, too, uses a relatively complex pattern of repeating lines that can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
History of the Pantoum
Pantoums are a form of poetry that originated in Malaysia in the 15th century. Originally, the pantoum form was used to relay folk tales in the form of poems. It was simpler at first with two rhyming couplets that were repeated. But, as time went on, writers varied the form until today the agreed-upon format of a pantoum is as discussed above.
Classic writers like Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire, as well as contemporary authors like John Ashbery And A.E. Stallings, are known for using the form.
The pantoum form is one of the more difficult poetic forms to get a handle on. But, it’s well worth learning and testing out within one’s own verse. Additionally, fully understanding what a pantoum is and what it looks like when a poet uses it is essential if one wants to find examples in the history of poetic writing. Spelled out, the pantoum form looks like this:
- Stanza One: ABCD
- Stanza Two: BEDF
- Stanza Three: EGFH
This pattern repeats for as many stanzas as the author wants to use. Often, in order to mimic the four-line stanzas, poets choose to write pantoums of four stanzas. In the final stanza, you might find the first line of the poem (represented by the “A” above) used as the second and/or fourth line.
Examples of Pantoum Poems
Another Lullaby for Insomniacs by A.E. Stallings
A.E. Stallings’ ‘Another Lullaby for Insomniacs’ is a contemporary example of a pantoum. The poem employs the form described above with the repetition of the second and fourth lines of each stanza as the first and third lines of the next stanza. Here is the first stanza:
Sleep, she will not linger:
She turns her moon-cold shoulder.
With no ring on her finger,
You cannot hope to hold her.
The second stanza uses the line “She turns her moon-cold shoulder” as its first line and “You cannot hope to hold her” as its fourth line. The third stanza reads:
She tosses off the cover
And lays the darkness bare.
She has another lover.
Her heart is otherwhere.
In this stanza, the poet employs a few new lines, including “And tosses off the cover,” which was the second line of stanza two, and “She has another lover,” which was the third line of stanza two.
The poet uses the word “Lullaby” in the title of this pantoum. This alludes to the musical, repetitive qualities that the form imbues any text with.
Read more A.E. Stallings poems.
Parents’ Pantoum by Carolyn Kizer
Kizer’s ‘Parents’ Pantoum’ is another contemporary example of a pantoum. The poet used the poetic form in the title ensuring that readers are aware, before even starting the poem, that she wanted to conform to this specific pattern. Here are the first two stanzas:
Where did these enormous children come from,
More ladylike than we have ever been?
Some of ours look older than we feel.
How did they appear in their long dresses
More ladylike than we have ever been?
But they moan about their aging more than we do,
In their fragile heels and long black dresses.
They say they admire our youthful spontaneity.
The poet does not conform as perfectly to the pantoum as the A.E. Stallings example, and the poet does make it clear enough through repetition. In stanza one, the poet uses the line “More ladylike than we have ever been?” as line two. This same line appears in stanza two as line one.
In stanza two, the line “They say they admire our youthful spontaneity” appears. The poet uses a very similar line, “Though they say they admire our youthful spontaneity,” in stanza three.
A pantoum is a type of poetry that originated in Malaysia in the 15th century. Today, authors write pantoums rarely but they are still something that poets experiment with. They’re often used when poets want to create a musical, soothing tone.
Pantoums, through their form, include rhymes by default. They use exact rhymes seen through the repetition of the same exact words at the end of lines.
Pantoums can end in different ways. It depends entirely on the poet’s intentions. More often than not, you’ll also find that the final line of a pantoum is the same as the first line.
It’s unclear who first used the pantoum or who “invented” it. But, French author Victor Hugo is credited with popularizing the form in the west.
Related Literary Terms
- Cinquain: a poetic form that makes use of a pattern of five lines.
- Diamante Poetry: a popular poetic form that is made up of seven lines. They are formatted into the shape of a diamond and used to compare two opposites.
- Spoken Word Poetry: a poetic form that is meant for performance and incorporates the wordplay, alliteration, and intonation of ancient oral traditions.
- Stanza: one of the most important fundamental elements of a poem. It is the unit of writing poems are composed.
- Block Form: used to describe a poem that is not separated into stanzas or verse paragraphs. These poems are contained within one “block” of text.
- Quatrain: a verse form that is made up of four lines with fifteen different possible rhyme schemes.
- Read: Another Lullaby for Insomniacs by A.E. Stallings
- Listen: 12 Poetic Forms You Should Try
- Watch: How to Write a Pantoum