What Is Quintain Poetry? 8 Types of Quintain Poems

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 15, 2020 • 2 min read

When it comes to poetry, sometimes limitation yields creativity. Such is the case with forms like the villanelle, sestina, acrostic poems, all of which force the poet to adhere to a specific form and structure. The same goes for the quintain, a poetic form that must contain five lines.



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What Is a Quintain?

A quintain (also known as a quintet) is any poetic form or stanza that contains five lines. Quintain poems can contain any line length or meter.

8 Types of Quintains

There are many variations of the quintain that have developed over the centuries, some of which are specific to different cultures. Here are the most common types of quintains:

  1. Cinquain: A cinquain is a poem or five-line stanza with a rigid syllable count for each line. This modern form was invented by American poet Adelaide Crapsey. The first line contains two syllables, the second line contains four, the third line contains six, the fourth line contains eight, and the last line contains two.
  2. English quintain: The English quintain follows a rhyme scheme of ABABB, in which the final two lines form a rhyming couplet. Though an English quintain requires an ABABB rhyming pattern, there is no established foot or measure.
  3. Limerick: The limerick follows a rhyming scheme of AABBA. The “A” lines are composed using iambic tetrameter, while the “B” lines are written in iambic trimeter. Limericks usually stand alone as a five-line poem and often contain bawdy or humorous subject matter. Nineteenth-century English poet Edward Lear, whose works include the famous limerick “There Was Once an Old Man with a Beard,” popularized this form.
  4. Spanish Quintain: The Spanish quintain (also known as the quintilla) is a type of five-line poetry that is eight syllables in length, each line written in iambic tetrameter. It usually follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAA or AABBA, but this five-line poetry form can follow any rhyme scheme (including ABAAB), as long as no more than two consecutive lines rhyme at a time.
  5. Pentastich: A pentastich is a free verse or blank verse form of quintain poetry. Each five-line stanza contains no rhyme or meter.
  6. Sicilian quintain: The Sicilian quintain employs an ABABA rhyme sequence. Though the original form of the Sicilian quintain had no specific form or meter, it is now common for it to be written iambic pentameter. In the Shakespearean sonnet “Sonnet 99,” the author’s first stanza is a Sicilian quintain, followed by two four-line stanzas (quatrains).
  7. Tanka: The tanka is a Japanese form of quintain poetry. Much like a haiku, the tanka has particular syllable requirements. In Japanese, the tanka is written as one unbroken line consisting of 31 syllables, but when it is converted into English poetry, it is usually broken up into five lines. In this case, the first and third lines contain five syllables, while the second, fourth, and fifth lines contain seven syllables.
  8. Envelope quintet: An envelope quintet is a five-line verse in which the inner lines are enclosed by the rhyming outer lines. The rhyme scheme may look like ABCBA, AABAA, or ABBBA (in which the middle lines form a rhyming tercet).
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