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Writing

How to Write a Quatern: Understanding Quaterns in Poetry

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Though it’s rarely used by modern poets, the quatern is an interesting poetic form. Learning about the history of the quatern can deepen your appreciation of poetry.

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What Is a Quatern?

A quatern is a French form of poetry that most likely originated in the Middle Ages. The quatern bears many similarities to the retourne, rondeau, villanelle, terzanelle, rondel, and kyrielle—which are other poetry forms from the same era. The quatern is a type of quaternion, a poem divided into four parts. There are many famous poems in the English language that can be classified as quaternions—including “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost—but most contemporary poems don’t follow the refrain rules necessary to classify them as quaterns. Other poets that wrote famous quaternions include Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes.

How to Write a Quatern

A quatern is a 16-line poem made up of four quatrains (four-line stanzas) as opposed to other poetic forms that incorporate a sestet or tercet. The quatern poetic form rules are as follows:

  1. Four 4-line stanzas: These stanzas written in verse.
  2. Eight syllables in each line: The quatern form usually involves lines of eight syllables, which are sometimes written in iambic pentameter. Pentameter requires five stressed syllables, meaning that an iambic pentameter would require a line of ten syllables total. Iambic pentameter is a common meter most often associated with Shakespearean sonnets.
  3. An optional rhyme scheme: Rhyming is not required, but often quatern poems do follow a set rhyme scheme. Quaterns generally incorporate a rhyme into their refrain, occasionally as a couplet.
  4. A refrain: The refrain of a quatern repeats the first line of the first stanza as the second line of the second stanza, the third line of the third stanza, and the fourth line of the fourth stanza.
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An Example of Quatern Poetry

Notice in the below example how the first line of stanza one is repeated as the second line of stanza two, the third line of stanza three, and the fourth line of stanza four.

The sun rose up this morning with a frown
My mind could sense all was not right on the earth
My head slumped towards the vacant ground,
A chill hung up above the empty hearth.

Through the new window, things appeared so calm
The sun rose up this morning with a frown
The dew hung from the fronds of all the palms,
The earth was cloaked in mist and seemed to drown

I took my coffee to the porch, sat down,
I heard the soft plaintive moan of a dog
The sun rose up this morning with a frown
I walked alone into the thick, dense fog

My hands, outstretched, vanished into the mist
I stumbled on a root, fell to the ground
I tumbled forward, body in a twist
The sun rose up this morning with a frown

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