How To Write A Quatrain Poem

poetry Jul 12, 2021

So you want to know how to write a quatrain poem…

Ocean waves, flower petals, the pulse in your wrist, a song you hear in the distance, a heartbeat, a snowflake…

What do all of these things have in common?

In each of these elements, you can see the manifestation of rhythm. A pattern that infinitely repeats itself throughout our reality.

Right now, take a moment to look around you. What patterns do you see? 

A painting with repeated brush strokes and color patterns. A leaf on a tree with symmetrical lines dispersing out from the mid-rib. The clouds in the sky that glide in an almost-illusive formation.

In what appears to be a chaotic world, there is structure disguised in plain sight.

Rhythm and repetition are intrinsic parts of our everyday life but what does this have to do with quatrain poems?

What Does Quatrain Mean

Coincidentally enough, another example of a prominent pattern in our lives is - language.

Word patterns repeat through centuries and transform on a meaning-need basis. We use patterns to create new words, in aid of human developments, transformations, and evolution. 

How the meaning of quatrain came about is no different.

The word quattuor in Latin means four, which later started to appear in French, quatre, in Spanish, cuatro, and in Italian, quattro

This gives us the ‘qua’.

Whereas, the early meaning of ‘train’ was ‘trailing part of a robe’ and later gave rise to ‘line of traveling people or vehicles’ and ‘a connected series of things’.

And here we have the definition of quatrain, four [connected] lines.

What Is a Quatrain Poem

When it comes to writing poetry, the structure can be just as important as the words you choose.

A poem may be a quatrain in itself. So, your whole poem just consists of four lines. Or it may be composed of multiple quatrains, meaning your poem will have many four-line stanzas (translation: verses). 

The possibilities of quatrains in writing poetry are almost endless because a quatrain can be combined with many rhyme schemes and gives the poet an opportunity to develop a full thought.

Poets, such as Shakespeare, use the quatrain technique in their poetry writing to convey a meaningful narrative that is difficult to achieve in just one or two lines.

You can have any number of quatrains in a poem. The important thing is that they follow a rhythmic pattern.

A quatrain can become the heart of your poem, and the rhyme, its heartbeat. 

Rhyme Patterns and Examples of Quatrain

When it comes to rhyming and repetition, you may wonder if the same sounds over and over again would become boring, pedantic, and redundant for the reader.

A pattern of rhythm doesn’t mean that all elements are identical. 

You can vary your rhyming styles from stanza to stanza depending on the message, the feeling, or the rhythm you want to convey.

In this way, a quatrain becomes a very versatile poetry device that can be adapted to any style of poem.

Here are some examples of quatrains used in poetry and literature and how you can use them:

AAAA - Shairi Rhyme

The rhyming of every last word in each line, or mono-rhyme, is often used in a fun way. Usually, you will find this scheme in nursery rhymes. But repetition used in this way also emphasises the message and allows the poem to be more memorable.

A poem consisting of multiple quatrain stanzas can follow the rhyming pattern of AAAA, BBBB, CCCC...

The Knight in the Panther Skin by Rustaveli

Once there ruled in Arabia, Rostevan, a king by God's graceA

Thriving, majestic, generous, modest though in the highest placeA

So just and merciful, many vassals did his service embraceA

He was a fearless warrior, a peerless speaker, never baseA

ABBA - Envelope Quatrain

An enclosed rhyme, used in an envelope type of quatrain, can make for strong stand-alone poems. Or it can help you share a number of different ideas in one poem.

By rhyming the first and the last line together, and then the second and the third line with each other, you are able to isolate the message you want to share.

In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Forgive these wild and wandering criesA,

Confusions of a wasted youthB;

Forgive them where they fail in truthB,

And in thy wisdom make me wiseA.

Heroic Stanza

In a heroic stanza type of quatrain, the point is to place the emphasis on every second beat to either:

  • Grab the reader’s attention or 
  • Lead an idea in your poem to a striking conclusion

 

You can apply one of the two rhyme schemes in order to achieve a heroic stanza:

ABAB

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways by William Wordsworth

 

She dwelt among the untrodden waysA

Beside the springs of DoveB,

A Maid whom there were none to praiseA

And very few to loveB

AABB

The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake

 

When my mother died I was very youngA,

And my father sold me while yet my tongueA

Could scarcely cry "'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'WeepB!"

So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleepB

You can also find these two rhythm patterns in many Shakespearean sonnets.

ABCB - Ballad Quatrain

This pattern of rhythm can support a storytelling format of a poem. Ballads recount tragic or comic events and are favored by songwriters. 

Only lines two and four rhyme, so that you can highlight the parts of the story you want your readers to notice.

Refugee by Emily Dickinson

These Strangers, in a foreign WorldA,

Protection asked of meB

Befriend them, lest Yourself in HeavenC

Be found a RefugeeB

There are many famous examples of quatrains in poetry and literature because you are able to develop a full narrative and easily convey a thought within four lines.

Take some time to experiment with the different rhymes. Read it out loud and see, hear and feel how it flows.

If a rhyme becomes hard to find, you can seek the help of rhyming dictionaries, thesaurus, or even slant rhyme. 

Slant rhyme is where you rhyme two similar-sounding words, even though they don’t rhyme completely.

A total of fifteen rhyming schemes are at your disposal. You can choose a rhyme pattern that you like and something that goes well with your subject matter.

Topics for a Quatrain Poem

There are many ways you can choose what to write your quatrain poem about. But sometimes, some inspiration can help.

One way to choose what you can write about is through observation.

What’s around you? You can describe the place where you are, the people around you, what you imagine their inner world to be like...

Another way is to explore what’s been on your mind.

What have you been thinking about recently? Your work, your relationships with friends, family, partners, the global events in the world, a memory from the past, or a vision of the future…

Or choose a generic topic and consider - what are your opinions and beliefs? Sustainability, marriage, money, abstract subjects like life and death, spirituality, eternal beauty…

Whether you choose to write a single-quatrain poem or longer, make sure that each stanza shares a central message.

Let’s say your topic is a reflection on life, this is how your central messages can go:

First quatrain: what do I think life is all about

Second quatrain: the good experiences in life

Third quatrain: the bad experiences in life

Fourth quatrain: the magical experiences in life

Fifth quatrain: a concluding message to embrace everything in life

Make sure you develop a full thought in each quatrain - each four lines should be able to stand alone, even if they are part of a longer poem. 

You can practice developing a single quatrain poem first and then expand to larger forms of poems.

Share your thoughts and let the rhyme you choose carry the beat of your heart through your words.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adventurous by nature, Valery has been a world wanderer for many years. 

Her journey started in Russia, transitioned to the UK, and now she discovers a sense of home in nations all around the world.

She moves beyond borders - learning, participating, finding inspiration and familiarity in diverse cultures she’s had the joy of living in.

When not chasing adventures and out-of-the-comfort zone experiences, she explores the wonders of language and its impact on the self, the world, and interpersonal communication.

She never ceases to seek opportunities for self-development and to contribute to a brighter future for the world around her.

You can discover some of her experiences on https://medium.com/@valeryvoyager





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