The Pantoum

Although I think it's more difficult to compose a good sestina, some critics argue that the pantoum is more elusive. The reason, simply, is the complex form.

Written in quatrains (four-line stanzas), the pantoum repeats the second and fourth lines of each stanza as the first and third lines of the following stanza, respectively. The pattern is continued for as many stanzas as you like. But when you end a pantoum, you should repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza as the fourth and second lines, respectively, of the last stanza. So the pantoum begins and ends with the same line.

Because a pantoum doesn't have to have rhyming end words, numbers are used to indicate the pattern. Here is one for a sixteen-line pantoum: 1234 2546 5768 7381.

Some poets vary the repetition of a few lines or choose not to end the pantoum in the traditional way, using its pattern to generate a mood. Essentially, these writers improvise on tenets of traditional pan-toums because they want their variations to enhance meaning in some way. As an example, see Joyce Carol Oates's "Welcome to Dallas!" in the mini anthology.

The pantoum is actually a Malayan verse form that is often lumped with traditional French forms such as the villanelle and the rondeau, triolet and ballade (more on them later). But because a pantoum can be any length, its form is not really fixed. Moreover, you can rhyme and meter the pantoum (which adds a pinch of salt to the wound of writing one). You can meter it without rhyme. Or rhyme it without meter. Or you can compose a freestyle version.

But as in the villanelle and sestina, all you need is a formula to help you focus on each element of the poem.

Here's a formula for the pantoum:

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