Definition of Quatrain

A quatrain is a verse with four lines, or even a full poem containing four lines, having an independent and separate theme. Often one line consists of alternating rhyme. It exists in a variety of forms. We can trace back quatrains in poems of poetic traditions by different ancient civilizations such as China, Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece and continue to appear in twenty first century. During dark ages in Europe, Middle East and Iran polymath poets like Omar Khayyam popularized this type of poetry, which gained its popularity with the name of Rubai in Iran and have possible rhyme scheme as, aabb, aaaa and abab.

Types of Quatrain

In formal poetry, rhyme scheme rhyme scheme and meter define different types of quatrain. There are many types of quatrain, but the most common types include:

  • Ballad Stanza – Its rhyme scheme is abab with iambic tetrameter.
  • Envelope Stanza – Its rhyme scheme is abba with iambic tetrameter.
  • Goethe Stanza – Its rhyme scheme is abab but no meter.
  • Italian Quatrain – Its rhyme scheme is abba with iambic pentameter.
  • Hymnal Quatrain – This multi stanza contains three alternating rhymes with iambic trimester and iambic tetrameter. Rhyme scheme is a4 b3 c4 b3.
  • Elegiac Stanza – This uses abab rhyme scheme with iambic pentameter.
  • Memoriam Stanza – This uses abba rhyme scheme with iambic tetrameter.

Examples of Quatrain in Literature

Example 1

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

(Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost)

This poem contains four quatrains with different rhyme schemes, as this stanza rhymes as aaba, in which first and second lines rhyme with the last line. Frost has used iambic tetrameter, eight syllables in each line with regular rhythm, presenting a perfect example of Rubaiyat stanza that also consists of aaba rhyme scheme with four lines.

Example 2

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

(Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson)

This entire poem is written in iambic trimeter pattern and has three quatrains; however, often it adds fourth stress at the end of the lines such as in the fourth line of this stanza. This stanza loosely rhymes with rhythmical flow in abab pattern.

Example 3

O, my luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O, my luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

(A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns)

These lines embody an example of Hymnal Stanza in which we see the poet having written in alternating quatrain with iambics. First and third lines follow iambic tetrameter, while second and fourth lines follow iambic trimeter, using rhyme scheme of abcb. This alternating meter makes the poem more voiced and pronounced.

Example 4

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

 (Look Before You Leap by W.H. Auden)

This is an example of the envelope stanza, in which the quatrain follows the rhyme scheme of abba with iambic tetrameter. In this type of quatrain, first and fourth lines enclose second and third lines.

Example 5

The tolls curfew the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

(Elegy Written in Country Courtyard by Thomas Gray)

This quatrain is presenting an example of elegiac stanza written in iambic pentameter with rhyme scheme abab. It is also referred as heroic stanza as its rhyme similar to heroic couplet.

Example 6

So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touch’d me from the past,
And all at once it seem’d at last
The living soul was flash’d on mine.

(In Memoriam A.H.H by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

This gives example of memoriam stanza with rhyme scheme of abba and follows iambic tetrameter (each line contains four iambs) pattern.

Function of Quatrain

Quatrain is a very popular stanza and important poetic form in English literature. It determines a specific style of expression and shapes the structure of a poem. The rhyming lines of a quatrain gives it regular rhythm. In addition, it gives language a fine arrangement by using accents on syllables and adding variations of rhyme scheme. A quatrain uses the speech into a regular pattern and converts a normal text into a dramatic form. Besides, it creates a rhythmic sense in literary works.

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