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March 2022

In this short month and following last month's zuhitsu prompt that generated many long poems, we will ask you to write a poem in a short form. 

The quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Persia, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China, and continues into the 21st century. 

In the eleventh century, the poet Omár Khayyám created a book of connected quatrain verses known as the “ Rubáiyát” which translates as quatrains in Arabic. In the nineteenth century, the “Rubáiyát” was translated by an English poet named Edward Fitzgerald, which brought about a resurgence of this four-line stanza. Nostradamus used quatrains to write his prophecies. Rumi used the form for many poems.

A quatrain can be a four-line stanza using a rhyme scheme, but these  six quatrains by Ursula K. Le Guin illustrate how one alone can also be a short poem. 
On the longest night of all the year
in the forests up the hill,
the little owl spoke soft and clear
to bid the night be longer still.
To make this prompt a bit more challenging, we ask you to use as your title a single word - an unusual word, a word that will need a definition for many readers - and your quatrain will be a rhyming definition.

For example, if your title is "CORUSCATE," the four rhyming lines will need to make it clear - without sounding like a dictionary - that this word means to glitter, sparkle, in bright flashes - like gems or the sunlight on moving water.

I could not find a poem that exactly fits the three requirements of this prompt, so I simply used on the website prompt some examples of quatrain stanzas from poems to illustrate the rhyme possibilities.

You will also need to choose a rhyme scheme. Here are six of the fifteen possibilities and examples of poems containing stanzas using them.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


The itch I cannot reach to scratch
A problem that eludes solution
The breeze a sail cannot quite catch
A quirk of faulty evolution

Frank Kelly


All the world’s a stage play, says he,
assuming the role of world director,
as we sad actors bow to our knees
scorning this unctuous “imperfector”.
(for Vladimir P.)

R. Bremner


This isn't something minor. It's been two years now, said the doctor.
Take your meds, come to therapy, and stop trying to act so brave.
Hopelessness, no appetite, energy, sleep. 2 years? It shocked her.
She grasped at any light and tried to find her way out of the cave.

Lily Hana Hayashi


A ten-dollar word for what you
and I do, who prefer an onomato:
mwah, smack, smooch, smackeroo.
Or just plain ex (oh) ex (oh) ex (oh).

Paul Hostovsky


It sounds cute, funny, maybe like something sweet
It's not. It's dangerous. Mightier than a quill pen.
Dutch steken to thrust, plus to cut as in snijden
Handy to have in the 1600s in a fight on the street

Colin Grace


The impish perverse sat astride my nape
As gleeful I strode down 8th Avenue.
He latched on the trim of the barker’s cape
And turned me into the Play Pen Revue.

Rob Friedman


As she rose from her jigsaw-puzzle stand,
she saw the world sawn in half, all askew.
She felt her way to the mirror wall and
found herself unsolved from the life she knew.

Taylor Graham


Rap and country, jazz and pop,
classical and barbershop,
each with a unique appeal
but all designed to make you feel.

Susan Spaeth Cherry


From my bath, these images I see
Marbling in the tile surrounding me
The gray veining and the white spaces
Psyche-made art; perceived faces.

Terri J. Guttilla

Sample Quatrains from the Prompt

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
     Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
     They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
     For knowledge is of things we see;
     And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Listless he eyes the palisades
     And sentries in the glare;
’Tis barren as a pelican-beach—
     But his world is ended there.