The pantoum is a form of poetry similar to a villanelle in that there are repeating lines throughout the poem. It is composed of a series of quatrains; the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines, respectively, of the next stanza. This pattern continues through the final stanza. In addition, the last line of that final stanza is a repetition of the first line of the first stanza, and the last stanza’s second line repeats the third line of the first stanza. Ideally, the meaning of lines shifts when they are repeated although the words remain exactly the same: this can be done by shifting punctuation, punning, or simply recontextualizing.
A four-stanza pantoum is common (although more may be used), and in the final stanza, lines one and three from the first stanza can be repeated, or new lines can be written. The pantoum form is as follows:
The pantoum is derived from the pantun berkait, a series of interwoven quatrains. An English translation of such a pantun berkait appeared in William Marsden's A Dictionary and Grammar of the Malayan Language in 1812. Victor Hugo published an unrhymed French version by Ernest Fouinet of this poem in the notes to Les Orientales (1829) and subsequent French poets began to make their own attempts at composing original "pantoums". Leconte de Lisle published five pantoums in his Poèmes tragiques (1884).
There is also the imperfect pantoum, in which the final stanza differs from the form stated above, and the second and fourth lines may be different from any preceding lines.
Baudelaire's famous poem "Harmonie du soir" is usually cited as an example of the form, but it is irregular. The stanzas rhyme abba rather than the expected abab, and the last line, which is supposed to be the same as the first, is original.
American poets such as John Ashbery, Marilyn Hacker, Donald Justice ("Pantoum of the Great Depression"), Carolyn Kizer, and David Trinidad have done work in this form, as has Irish poet Caitriona O'Reilly. Jabar Boykin wrote a well-received pantoum.
The Spring 2019 issue of The Paris Review features a pantoum by John Yau entitled “Instructions from the Pantoum.”
Claude Debussy set Charles Baudelaire's "Harmonie du soir" in his Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire in the form of a pantoum. Perhaps inspired by this setting, Maurice Ravel entitled the second movement of his Piano Trio, "Pantoum (Assez vif)". While Ravel never commented on the significance of the movement's title, Brian Newbould has suggested that the poetic form is reflected in the way the two themes are developed in alternation.
Neil Peart used the form (with one difference from the format listed above) for the lyrics of "The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum)", the fourth track on Rush's 2007 album Snakes & Arrows, also released as a single.
- Sellers, Heather (2008). The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-312-43647-6.
- "Home Page of Nicholas Heer". University of Washington.
Victor Hugo popularized the pantun or pantoum when in 1829 he published Ernest Fouinet's French translation of this poem in the Notes at the end of Les Orientales.(links to a PDF file containing the original and various translations, and also to further information)
- Baudelaire, Charles. "Harmonie du soir"(imperfect pantoum, in French; also includes four English translations)
- Justice, Donald (1998-09-21). "Pantoum of the Great Depression". Washington Post.
- Kizer, Carolyn. "Parent's Pantoum"(includes audio clip of poet reading the poem)
- Wilson, James Matthew (December 2015). "The Christmas Preface". First Things (258): 48.
- Yau, John (Spring 2019). "Instructions from the Pantoum". Paris Review (228): 160.
- Michael Tilmouth. "Pantoum". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Newbould, Brian (March 1975). "Ravel's Pantoum". The Musical Times. 116 (1585): 228–231. doi:10.2307/959089. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 959089.
- Peart, Neil (2007). "The Game of Snakes & Arrows" (PDF). Atlantic Records. Retrieved 2013-12-13.