An article by Brian Strand
Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) is often considered merely a minor poet in literary circles. It is my contention that her American cinquain form and her ‘doublet’ image form raise her reputation to be an equal to the greatest of poets in the English speaking world. Why so you may ask?
My claim rests upon the creative genius of her image forms, which are better suited as a vehicle for poetic images in English than the short imported poetic formats that are now so popular. Influenced, no doubt by her studies in metrics over many years, both her cinquains and doublets were distilled through the ‘sieve’ of her imagination and intellect being devised for the English language and from within the English culture. For this reason the language flow is more natural and because of their English literary heritage, without doubt seems to ‘work’ better than those devised for another culture.
From my studies and researches of her cinquain form it would appear that Adelaide prioritised her poetic form as follows:
# IMAGE/THOUGHT ..i.e. the inspiration behind the poem.
# FIVE LINES in a stress sequence pattern 1,2,3,4,1.
# SYLLABLE pattern of 2,4,6,8,2 *.
# SYMMETRY. Initial line capitals with English grammar used throughout.
* over forty percent of her cinquains did not exactly meet the 22 syllables style.
Apart from the mechanics of the form, Adelaide’s major achievement was to take the ‘imagist’ idea one stage further, introducing into the cinquain a ‘turn’ or final line ‘surprise’ or ‘contrast’, that leads to a heightened awareness, or as a lasting conclusion to the poem .This aspect makes it memorable and lives with the reader.
The two line epigram has always been a popular literary device, used by many well-known writers of past eras, especially for terse and witty sayings. The novelist George Eliot for example, used the form extensively throughout her writings. It was not until the early part of the 20th century that the epigram has become recognised as a poetic form when Adelaide Crapsey created and codified it into the ‘DOUBLET’ image poem, with her beautiful poem On Seeing Weather-Beaten Trees.
The doublet image form comprises;-
# TWO LINE stanza of ten syllables per line.
# RHYME ending in last word of the second line.
# INTEGRAL title to the poem, which effectively becomes the first line, thus making the ‘doublet’ into a three line poetic form.
Over the past three decades, as Adelaide Crapsey’s work has become more widely known, her American cinquains have now become the equivalent ‘English’ form of the tanka and her doublet the ‘English’ equivalent to the three line haiku. Each of these deserves to become recognised as the pre-eminent short poetic form of English literature, truly …shorthand of the heart.