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What Is a Quinzaine?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

A quinzaine is similar to a haiku in that both types of poetry are usually unrhymed and contain a certain number of syllables. Quinzaine poems always contain 15 syllables, distributed in descending amounts among three lines. The usual form features seven syllables in the first line, five in the second, and three in the last. For this reason this is also called a 7/5/3 poem. Unlike haikus, which usually make statements, quinzaine poems almost always ask a question. The first line makes a specific statement and the other two lines question that statement with one or two questions.

The word quinzaine is derived from the French word quinze, which means 15. Where and how this form of poetry began is uncertain, but the name of the poem suggests that it was popular in France. Many poets use this form of poetry to ask provocative or esoteric questions. For instance, an esoteric verse might read as follows: “I am a capable girl/Are you capable?/Do you know?” The first line in the poem makes a concrete statement about the girl. The last two lines question this statement, but don’t necessarily suggest that the girl is wrong. Rather, these lines are actually meant to question what capable means and what the girl’s definition might be.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

A more provocative quinzaine might read as follows: “Soldiers march with fortitude/Are they brave soldiers?/Are they men?” Again, the poem is not necessarily questioning the integrity of the soldiers themselves, but the situation in which they find themselves. The soldiers march with fortitude, either because they’ve been drafted or because they believe this is the right thing to do. The questions ask if these men are brave, questioning the meaning of the word. The last line refers to the fact that, in history, many soldiers have been little more than teenagers and ancient wars even featured women dressed as men so they could fight.

There are two basic variations in the structure of a quinzaine. Some poets believe that the last two lines should each ask a separate question. Others believe that these lines may be one slightly longer question. Both forms seem to be correct, and which one a poet chooses is often largely based on preference and purpose. The quinzane examples in the above paragraphs are both examples of the last two lines asking separate questions. One might notice that both questions sound similar, but focus on two separate aspects of the first statement. This is typical to a quinzaine.

An example of a quinzaine containing a single question might read as follows, “The summer sun sets tonight./Will the crickets sing/chirp and play?” The last two lines in this poem are enjambed, meaning the end of the second line is actually the middle of a sentence. Poets who tackle this form often use several nouns in their questions to infuse them with meaning.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books