A poem: my attempt at a pantoum!

Before we get to my pantoum that I wrote today as part of the poetry writing challenge I am attempting, I should probably explain the form itself.

A pantoum is made of an indeterminate amount of stanzas (as in, you can write as few or many as you like) all made up of four lines. The second and fourth lines of each stanza also become the first and third line of the next stanza, and so on through the poem, and the final stanza repeats the unrepeated first and third lines from the first stanza. As a result, each line is repeated twice, and the poem attains a sort of cyclical feel to it, always coming back to the same ideas. While some people now believe it is not important to have a rhyme scheme, I like to rhyme each couplet, so that the rhyme scheme ends up something like abab bcbc cdcd and so on.

If none of that made much sense, just read my poem and the structure at least might come across more clearly.

This form is really quite challenging and I definitely don’t feel I have mastered it, but this is the first pantoum I have written in some time so I thought I would share it (even though I’m actually quite nervous). Enjoy!

The Cold Ground – A Pantoum

The crowd has gathered round
Unsheltered from the icy rain
As he’s placed into the cold ground
Gazed upon with pity and pain

Unsheltered from the icy rain
This bitterness has a sharp sting
Gazed upon with pity and pain
A big fall for one who was once king

This bitterness has a sharp sting
They watched him slide off the rails
A big fall for one who was once king
And who never found his own grail

They watched him slide off the rails
Now the crowd has gathered round
He never found his own grail
It’s too late, he’s deep in the cold ground

And there we have it, my first and last attempt at a pantoum for this poetry challenge. It was fun, and the last two lines I had to come up with (in other words, the first and third of the last stanza) were particularly challenging as I had to wrap it all up somehow and bring it back to where it started, but I am glad I wrote it.

What are your thoughts on this form, and on my attempt at it?

12 thoughts on “A poem: my attempt at a pantoum!

    • I think a lot of people are unaware of a lot of poetic forms – they just aren’t taught that much anymore. I was taught a couple in university and then went off to discover more on my own. There’s some good websites though, I’m pretty sure poets.org has a list of all the different forms somewhere on its website.
      This one is quite fun, and I dare say slightly more challenging than other forms that have repeating lines, such as the villanelle (which is my favourite of all the forms). Good luck when you do have a go, I’d love to hear how you go with it. 🙂

    • Yeah, the repeating lines can become pretty tricky, especially when you come to the last two stanzas and you have to make the same two lines fit both contexts set up already – that stumped me for a while with this one. But it’s a nice feeling when you finish writing one, even if it’s only relatively short like my one. 🙂

  1. Fascinating!! I really like this – both the form and your poem! But I can see how it must be tough and yet you managed to tell a great story in yours 🙂 well done! I will attempt one when I feel able!

    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked it, and I’m glad the story came across in what is essentially only 8 lines appearing twice (though I did tweak a couple of them at the end). You should definitely attempt one – I suspect you’re more able to than you realise. Starting them is easy, too, it’s just wrapping them up at the end that’s tough! 🙂

  2. This is a lovely poem and I think you’ve done really well (not that I’m an expert!). I feel like it’s about King Richard III – or is that completely in my mind? For some reason I imagined a bunch people standing around his remains in the rain in the middle of a carpark. Though the poem talks about being put in the ground, not being unearthed so I guess it’s not… BUT! I was able to imagine something which usually means something has been well written!

    • Oh thank you, that’s very kind of you!
      Actually, no it’s not about Richard III, though what an interesting guess! I think this is partly why I didn’t explain what had inspired this poem, as I wanted to see what people came up with on their own. I really like your guess though, almost more than the real story behind it! 😛 And hopefully you’re right about it being well written, if it evoked some sort of image for you.
      Actually, it was partly inspired as I pondered what the families of young people who go right off the rails would think, particularly thinking about the two Boston bombers, and the various news stories I’ve read of how their different families are reacting (including the in-laws of the one who died). While of course it is hard to know what to believe in that whole situation, it just put the image in my head of a funeral where even the family, though deeply saddened, also pity the one who has died because they spiralled into their own oblivion in a lot of ways. And as with all young people, they had their whole lives in front of them. So it’s really a total messed up mix of emotions, I guess.
      It’s a pretty odd thing for me to write a poem about, but it was one I really enjoyed and that I think will stay with me after this challenge is over (especially now I’ve shared it).
      Thank you again! 🙂

  3. A pantoum is an interesting poetic form. It looks simple but, as you say, summing it up using the first lines might be hard to do. In a way, it’s like writing any sort of essay, where the beginning is the introduction, you present your case points, then swing back to refer to your opening statements with your conclusion. 🙂

    What you said above about your motivation only goes to show the power of the media these days and how quickly it reaches all corners of the world almost the second it happens. It also shows the danger of it with so many sites out there filled with hate-mongering and misinformation. It can be confusing for young people to know how to filter out truth from conspiracy theories and concerning for parents when they don’t know how their kids will be affected by what they read.

    • It is really interesting. Has a lot of similarities to the villanelle, my favourite form, I think, although personally I find the pantoum much harder to master, despite it being in some ways less defined. Interestingly enough I was speaking to a fellow teacher who I went to university with last night, and she is teaching English at high school although she’s actually trained in other subjects, but when I explained forms like the villanelle and pantoum to her she said the exact same thing, that it would be useful in sort of subliminally reminding the kids how to structure essays. So it’s very interesting you’ve thought along the same lines! 🙂
      That’s exactly right, media and the internet have become quite scary and potentially dangerous places, especially for the youth of today. It’s easy to forget that sometimes in our little corners of the web that we inhabit, but then not many teenagers hang around these same parts of the net. I’m always trying to get my students to question things they hear in the media, and, depending on the kids, I sometimes like to ask them to challenge me even (at the appropriate moments, of course).

      • Glad to see you challenge your students. I worry about my son who surfs the web far too much and is constantly telling me stuff that sounds like conspiracy theories to me. I try to temper those opinions by citing other information or telling him my opinions about the subject, hoping he will dig deeper to find truths to what he reads. It is a little scary, although I know he’s not the type of kid to do anything radical. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of faith in governments, these days – not that I blame him! lol

        • Yeah, that in itself is a tricky situation – I don’t have much of a faith in governments either, but there is that fine line between distrusting a government and believing in conspiracy theories. I think as long as you teach him to dig deeper and look at things from several perspectives, which it sounds like you are doing, he will be fine. At the end of the day that’s the best we can do for the younger generation at the moment – teach them to think for themselves, to think critically, and to look at as many perspectives as ever. Empathy and sympathy skills will make all the difference I think! 🙂

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