Poets Online Archive



January 2013

Although I am going to write first here about five-stanza forms, this prompt is really about the number five.

The cinquain (AKA quintain or quintet and pronounced sing-keyn) is both a poem or a stanza form that is composed of five lines. Cinq is French for five and examples of cinquain poems are found in many European languages, but the origin of the form is in medieval French poetry.

This form can be very formal or more loosely followed, and there are several variations that have developed over the centuries. In very formal English poetry, cinquains follow a rhyme scheme of ababb, abaab or abccb.  Going back to the 16th and 17th century poets, such as Sir Philip Sidney, George Herbert, Edmund Waller, and John Donne, you find this form used.

"The World" by George Herbert begins:

Love built a stately house, where Fortune came,
And spinning fancies, she was heard to say
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same;
But Wisdom quickly swept them all away.

The Sicilian quintain rhyme scheme is used in "Home Is So Sad” by Philip Larkin:

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

When Poets Online looked at cinquains earlier, we used as our model Adelaide Crapsey. She was an early twentieth-century poet who used a cinquain form of 22 syllables distributed among the five lines in a 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 pattern.

She was influenced by the Japanese tanka, another five-line form that we have tried on Poets Online. Her poems also focused on imagery and the natural world.

Adelaide Crapsey's poetry was published after her death in 1915 as Verse and the completed portion of her work on prosody as A Study in English Metrics in 1918. What her form does that the Japanese form consciously avoids doing is to include the very Western closing, climax or message.

Here is one of her cinquains, " Amaze"

I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.

Not all of her poetry was in the cinquain form. Take a look at her "To The Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window", a poem written as her death from tuberculosis approached, and one she said was “Written in a Moment of Exasperation.”

Five, the number, appears in many forms. It is the third prime number. A Fermat prime. 5 sided polygons are pentagons. Pentagrams are 5-sided stars with many symbolic meanings. I like that it is the fifth Fibonacci number.

And five has many symbolic meanings in cultures from the Greeks through the Maya, Celtic and others, and allusions in the Bible and literature.

A quick search online turns up many poems using five, such as "To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire" by David Wagoner, "It Was Going on Five in the Morning" by André Breton and "Five Easy Prayers for Pagans" by Philip Appleman.

Our new prompt has two parts (I guess it should have had 5 parts.) and an additional option.
1. Write a poem that uses some aspect of five as an element of its content and meaning.
2.  Use 5-line stanza(s). You can write a short single cinquain or you can write multiple stanzas (5X5?).
* Optional Challenge: Use one of the formal cinquain/quintain/quintet rhyme schemes as illustrated above by Crapsey and Larkin.

I chose as a model poem this month a poem that uses the quintain and is well known to poetry fans: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. I could not find a poem that uses the five-line form and also has a theme of five. I'm sure one exists. If you find it, post a comment on the blog.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.

Smell is the mute sense, the one without words - Diane Ackerman

Of the five named senses, my dog loves one
chiefly: scent that comes on wind, or soft-seeps
up from soil - old bones buried from the sun,
from sight, sound, touch; or live rabbit that leaps
as if a child of air where magic sleeps.

My dog, I'm sure, thinks nothing of all this,
but wordless follows where his nose invites,
to trash dump or to scenic vista - bliss.
Bearing news, the wind nips and licks and bites.
My dog runs after, as if chasing kites -

whatever soars above this wonder-world
which I, dull human, hardly know. On scent
my dog reads sagas: maps unfurled
with “here be dragons,” maybe; the extent
of quest, and chase - then, curling up content.

Taylor Graham


Warm womb fleshing out
Fresh air we breathe
Uncertain of anything but the present moment
Bright colours, sharp objects fall into view - Hurts our eyes
We cry

Walking the street
Hating the world
Invincible, powerful, but so used by society
Calling out for love, for care
Or leave me alone.

Warmer than womb
Heat radiating like a light around us
Finding, exploring what is to come
Hold your breathe

Organising bank statements around us
Preparing for the next day
Ensuring there is enough to survive
The love has dried out of them like dead leaves

55 years young
Awaiting, the darkness approaches
Morbidly hanging over your shoulder
Like a shadow waiting for sun
It is inevitable. It is coming…

Nicola Thoner

(A Response to William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure”)

It’s not a vanity plate, that spiritual toe tag;
It’s just an impression made by the state:
EVL 5666.
The first and last parts read like a Satanic incantation,
But the 5 is ambiguous, not as precise as spells should be.

An obvious conjecture is the pentagram,
A symbol to entice the Beast
Who is preoccupied with the housing shortage in hell;
Another is the Pentagon, with its credo
That every real American is ready to kill.

Or else it references the outline of a hand,
Like the one left in pigments spat in the caves of Southern France,
Right below the flying bison and mammoth,
Slapped there by a Shaman,
Who, like all holy men, was taking credit for questionable magic;

Or it’s my own primitive hand,
Traced in yellow crayon on blue construction paper,
Making a crude third-grade turkey for Thanksgiving,
Which I bullied the kid sitting next to me to cut out
Because I was afraid of giving myself stigmata;

But maybe it’s just the lottery-slim chance
The state grants to its citizens,
To possibly confuse witnesses of the car
Seen speeding from a burning building,
As Williams’ “Fire Engine 5” arrived on the scene.

Ron Yazinski


Yesterday I decided. I’m quitting.
There are just six left in the pack. Sweet six.
Should I smoke them all in one sitting,
or ration them slowly as the hour strikes?
Should I indulge the moment and regret the day
or stretch my limits to delay my dismay?

I can’t think without a fag.
One down. Five in the bag.

Isabelle Schmidt


I wrote a cinquain with five stanzas
marching in a row like Boy Scouts
on their way to become soldiers,
stopping to roast five marshmallows
before drawing guns and firing five shots.

And each stanza had five lines,
like five fingers reaching forward,
warm and soft, just like yours –
they trapped my hand in place
and held on tight, an anchor and a haven.

We sat in your car for five nights
and tracked the progress of the moon.
You thought it was shrinking
while I thought it would grow larger
and larger until it popped like a balloon.

You told me I was ridiculous
with a look in your eyes that reminded me
of love, or something equally as fond.
You spoke of June, five months from now,
like you didn’t think you’d tire of me by then.

You said that would never happen,
but I told you about the Rule of Five –
no more good things could come without consequence.
You looked at me and said you didn’t believe it.
I looked right back and prayed that you were right.

Michelle Lesniak


“Five-by-five, I read you loud and clear.”
He lifted up his arms toward the light.
“Five-by-five, I read you loud and clear”
He said again, though not a soul was near.
Head uplifted, he looked into the night.

The empty field behind his house was still.
At midnight, no one stirred; not one friend
Rose to find his way across his sill
To look at what he saw above the hill.
The glow, the pulsing light that did not end,

That shimmered above the silver winter grass.
He heard ancient voices in his head, but stood
Silent, on tiptoe, peering, as through a glass,
Waiting for the word to come, for him to pass
Into the cone where he would turn to blood.

He’d known that they would come someday,
Had worn out all his friends and kids and wives
Recounting the story of the war, the exact way
His plane had been, and even how he lay
Rigid, unable to move, as he went into a dive.

He’d awoke in darkness, sitting in a tree.
Since then he’d waited, only marking time
Till they returned to take him where he’d be
Whole once again, at peace, and, finally, free.
At dawn, they found him hanging from a line.

Robert Miller


No one says half a decade, it's too long,
or a nickel for you're thoughts, it just doesn't jive,
a half of ten sounds all wrong.
Where's the respect for Ole Number Five?
Apparently, if you're not even, you don't belong.

Jay Geer


Five seeks five
to have and to hold,

to scratch and to stroke, to rub together in worry,
to hold with hope.

Five seeks five,
for a match made in heaven,
all for five and five for all,
better with the other,
yet neither’s better half.

Five seeks five
to make one’s story complete
with articulating gestures,
independent, interrupting,
collaborating, tangos of telling.

Sweeping the air
or tapping a keyboard—
words or music,
each finding its place,
apart and together.

At night, sharing a pillow,
finding repose, sometimes intertwining,
five with five, never counting—
never thinking of “ten”,
or “five”, alone.

M L Soufi


I am
Five times blessed-by
Humility, joy, love,
Mercy, kindness-all unfolding
In you.

I am
Five times blessed as
Your dignity of soul
Survives despite unrelenting

Forced to
Flee the shadows
Hounding every step
On your poor and migrant way through
This world,

I am
Five times blessed when
You turn to me and smile
Your toothless grin, then offer me
Your hand

In the
Grimy friendship
Of unforgiving streets.
You are alive, and I am five
Times blessed.

Maddison Ross


shiny black
claws gripping fencepost
ogles my camera lens

white picket
gate swings closed
beckons me move on

blue convertible
revs its' engine
yearning for young love

marie a. mennuto-rovello