Pantun / Pantoum

Pantuns were written in ancient Malaysia. In the 19th century, Victor Hugo, a novelist and poet whose major works include The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, became interested in the pantun. He brought this form of interlocking poetry to the attention of other French poets, who took the poetic form and developed the pantoum, a set of quatrains—four-line stanzas—which utilize refrains in a complex pattern.

A pantoum must have a minimum of three stanzas. There isn’t any upper limit to the number of stanzas it may have.

In a pantoum, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The second line becomes the next first line, and the fourth line becomes the next third line. The final line of the poem—the fourth line of the last stanza—is used as the first line of the first stanza.

The refrains should ideally have a different meaning each time they are used. This can be accomplished by changing the context of the refrain with the text around it.

If a pantoum were comprised of three stanzas, the rhyming pattern would be as follows:

a – b – a – b … b – c – b – c … c – a – c – c