My blog on six-word memoirs is all about brevity and and so continuing with this theme let me introduce you to the world of cinquains.

What is a cinquain?

A cinquain (pronounced sin-cain) comes from the Latin for five and is a type of poetry that was created about 100 years ago by an American poet called Adelaide Crapsey. The popularity of cinquains (like the Japanese haiku and tanka) can be attributed to their simplicity and brevity.

What form does does a cinquain take?

A cinquain has just five lines with a specific count of syllables or words in each line and so they are relatively quick and easy to write.

The original format for a cinquaine (as defined by Adelaide Crapsey) uses a count of syllables but there is also a version based on the original idea which uses a word count rather than a syllable count.

Line 1 – two syllables
Line 2 – four syllables
Line 3 – six syllables
Line 4 – eight syllables
Line 5 – two syllables


Line 1 – one word
Line 2 – two words
Line 3 – three words
Line 4 – four words
Line 5 – one word

Although cinquains can be left-justified when printed/written on a page, because of their structure they also lend themselves to centering the text creating a diamond- or Christmas tree-like shape (see below).

Cinquains can tell a story

Even though there are only five lines to play around with some of the best cinquains tell a story but they can also be more abstract. Below are some examples written by Adelaide Crapsey. A quick internet search will reveal many more examples written by a variety of authors.

Examples of cinquains by Adelaide Crapsey


The cold
With steely clutch
Grips all the land…alack
The little people in the hills
Will die!


With swift
Great sweep of her
Magnificent arm my pain
Clanged back the doors that shut my soul
From life

Have a go yourself

Start by coming up with an idea or subject for your cinquain and then scribble down as many words and phrases as you can that are related to that idea/subject. Once you have done that, think about the story or message you want to convey and then pick out the words and phrases which are most suitable. Finally organise the words and/or phrases into five lines and then edit them to fit the appropriate syllable or word count for each line.

It is easy to count the number of words in a line (see below) but if you have chosen to write a cinquain based on syllables, the best way to make sure that you use the correct number is to count them on your fingers as you write each line.

aptly described
as the best
long drink in the

© Chris Lightfoot

Cinquains – what are they and how do you write one?
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