A Guide to Poetry #2: Verse Forms #3: Pantoum

The Story So Far

1. Foot, Metrics, Prosody and Scansion

1.1 General Overview

1.2 Anglophonic metrics

1.3 Romance languages

1.4 Classical languages

2. Verse Forms

2.1 Sestina

2.2 Villanelle

A pantoum is composed of a series of quatrains. The second and forth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. This pattern continues for any number of stanzas, except the final stanza. The first and third lines of the final stanza are the second and fourth of the penultimate; the first line of the poem is the last line of the final stanza, the the third line of the first stanza is the second of the final.

Ideally, the meaning of the lines changes when they are repeated, even though the words stay the same – punctuation can be changed, or you can pun or recontextualise.

So, the scheme (were the pantoum to continue for four stanzas, say) is:

A1B1A2B2 B1A3B2A4 A3B3A4B4 B3A2B4A1

Christ, that denotation was hard. Every bloody line is repeated at some point, which is where it differs from, say, the villanelle.

(What’s worse is, the only examples I have on me are irregular – either the rhyme is ABBA or the last line is original, or both.)

On the other hand, we only have to write 8 lines.

Let’s give it a go!

Rockclimbing

1

A fox’s bark; the hour is growing late:

While the sandstone is yet sanguine, I must fly.

Descending from the mountain, my heart pulsates,

Thinking of you, below the suicide sky.

2

While the sandstone is yet sanguine, I must fly.

Beneath my boots, the sheer rock face undulates.

Thinking of you, below the suicide sky

That upon my woollen skin, precipitates.

3

Beneath my boots, the sheer rock face undulates.

The grey rain that soaks me, where once I was dry,

That upon my woollen skin, precipitates…

To this labour of lust, I must say goodbye.

4

The grey rain that soaks me, where once I was dry,

Descending from the mountain. My heart pulsates

To this labour of lust; I must say goodbye:

A fox’s bark; the hour is growing late.

Laurence Thompson, 12th December 2011

Closing thoughts

I actually feel as if I could write a longer pantoum than this – I had a lot of nice words that rhymed with late, like coagulate. As an exercise, it only took me about 40 mins to compose this, maybe less. Again, as with the villanelle and sestina, I didn’t write the poem linearly: to do so would have thrown up too many surprises. I knew early on what the final stanza was going to be, and from there it was just an exercise in punctuation more than anything.

There was a bit of an issue with grammar in the third stanza, but I actually think the ellipses now makes it the strongest part, the point on which the psychology of the poem hinges. It’s here that it’s clear the narrator has gone rockclimbing to drive thoughts out of his mind, but it’s only made him more thoughtful of what it was he was trying to forget. This is because there’s a threatening sexuality to the scenery: the rock undulates, the sandstone is blood red, “fox” perhaps has a dual meaning (a fox’s bark is a particularly unsettling noise, incidentally). The narrator is made wet, which suggests they are female and thinking of a female lover, but it’s ambiguous. I’m not too happy with “suicide sky,” but it’ll do for now.

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