Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Last time I wrote that my first poems were cinquains (unrhymed, five-line, twenty-two-syllable poems) which my sixth-grade teacher taught us to write.  I thought I was creating fancy French-styled poems (pretty heady stuff!).  It took me a quarter of a century to discover that the cinquain is not a French invention but was conceived by an American woman named Adelaide Crapsey.

I first encountered this young woman in a book about the sanatorium at Saranac Lake in upstate New York.  Founded in 1884, it became a famous center for the open-air treatment of tuberculosis.  Robert Louis Stevenson had been a patient there in the winter of 1887 – 88 and it is where he wrote Master of Ballantrae.  Crapsey, diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain lining, also went to Saranac for treatment.

Adelaide Crapsey’s poems (her whole poetic output, less than one hundred poems) most often speak of death and dying.  Diagnosed with fatal tuberculosis in 1911, she began writing cinquains in the same year.  These poems reflect her knowledge of her own impending death.  The form itself (the gradual increase of syllables from lines one through four, followed by the short final line) is a metaphor for the life of this young woman — a brief life, cut short.  She continued writing poetry up to the end of her life, even from her room in the sanatorium at Saranac Lake.  Not until after her death in 1914 (at the age of 33) were her poems published.

Here’s a link to an excellent article, from The Guardian, on Adelaide Crapsey and two of her cinquains:
Click here for the article.

Three of Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquains:


Keep thou
Thy tearless watch
All night but when blue-dawn
Breathes on the silver moon, then weep!
Then weep!


Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead.

Guardian of the Treasure of Solomon
And Keeper of the Prophet’s Armour

My tent
A vapour that
The wind dispels and but
As dust before the wind am I

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