A quatrain (kwaa-train) is a stanza in a poem that has exactly four lines. Quatrains are fun to write and easy to remember and recite.
- Sometimes a quatrain is an entire poem, while other times they are part of a larger poem. Like blocks, they can be stacked.
- The quatrain must rhyme. There are fifteen possible rhyme schemes in a quatrain but the most common are AAAA, AABB, ABAB, or ABBA.
- The lines in a quatrain can be any length and use any meter. Slant rhyme is okay.
Example #1 The first quatrain of Emily Dickinson’s poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death is shown below. She uses the ABCB rhyme scheme (noted in parenthesis: the “b’s” rhyme).
Because I could not stop for Death – (a) He kindly stopped for me – (b) The Carriage held but just Ourselves – (c) And Immortality. (b)
Example #2 We’ve all enjoyed Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The first quatrain of this poem is below. As you can see the rhyme scheme is AABA—the “a’s” rhyme.
Whose woods these are I think I know. (a) His house is in the village though; (a) He will not see me stopping here (b) To watch his woods fill up with snow. (a)
Behind the poem
The word quatrain is derived from the French quatre, meaning “four.” Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus) used the quatrain form to deliver his famous prophecies in the 16th century.