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What is a pantoum?

A poetic form that uses repeated lines in a specific pattern.

Waltzing Lines: The Pantoum Poetic Form

The pantoum is a poetic form that waltzes lines to create a haunting melody. In this form, lines are repeated in a specific pattern, creating a rhythmic quality that is unique to the pantoum. The form originated in Malaysia, and its name is derived from the Malay word 'pantun', which means 'a poem'.

A pantoum is composed of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines from each stanza repeated as the first and third lines of the following one. The first and third lines of the first stanza are used as the second and fourth lines of the final stanza. This creates a circular effect that draws attention to the repeated lines.

The pantoum can be a challenging form to write, requiring careful attention to both the content and the form. The repeating lines can create a sense of inevitability, but the poet must still find a way to surprise the reader with each new stanza.

Pantoum in Action: Two Literary Examples

Explore two distinct examples of the pantoum poetic form in literary works.

'A Blessing' by James Wright

The poem 'A Blessing' by James Wright uses the pantoum form to create a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. The repeated line 'Suddenly I realize.../the open door' creates a sense of discovery and surprise with each new stanza.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossoms.

If I stepped out of my body I would break
Into legends.

Into great blue herons.'
The line is repeated one last time in the final stanza, emphasizing its importance to the poem's meaning.

'Pantoum of the Great Depression' by Donald Justice

Donald Justice's poem 'Pantoum of the Great Depression' uses the form to convey a sense of despair and hopelessness in the face of economic hardship. The repeated lines 'In the cicada's cry,/ No sign can foretell/ How soon it must die.' create a sense of inevitability and futility.

In the cicada's cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.

In the tomato field
Offer me nothings
But a diminutive flower.'
The poem's sense of hopelessness is underscored by the final stanza's shift in focus to the natural world.