A quatrain is a type of stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines.
Existing in a variety of forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China, and continues into the 21st century, where it is seen in works published in many languages. During Europe's Dark Ages, in the Middle East and especially Iran, polymath poets such as Omar Khayyam continued to popularize this form of poetry, also known as Ruba'i, well beyond their borders and time. Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus) used the quatrain form to deliver his famous prophecies in the 16th century.
There are fifteen possible rhyme schemes, but the most traditional and common are: AAAA, ABAB, and ABBA.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
- The Ruba'i form of rhymed quatrain was favored by Omar Khayyám, among others. This work was a major inspiration for Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written in Persian. The ruba'i was a particularly widespread verse form: the form rubaiyat reflects the plural. One of FitzGerald's verses may serve to illustrate:
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.
- The Midnight Songs poetry form is from Fourth Century China, consisting of regular five-character lines, with each quatrain formed from a pair of rhymed couplets. The person matter involves the personal thoughts and feelings of a courtesan during the four seasons, into which the quatrains are individually assigned.
- Shairi (also known as Rustavelian Quatrain) is an AAAA rhyming form used mainly in The Knight in the Panther's Skin.
- The Shichigon-zekku form used on Classical Chinese poetry and Japanese poetry. This type of quatrain uses a seven characters length of line. Both rhyme and rhythm are key elements, although the former is not restricted to falling at the end of the phrase.
- Ballad meter (The examples from "The Unquiet Grave" and "The Wife of Usher's Well" are both examples of ballad meter.)
- Decasyllabic quatrain used by John Dryden in Annus Mirabilis, William Davenant in Gondibert, and Thomas Gray
- Various hymns employ specific forms, such as the common meter, long meter, and short meter.
- The thirty syllable, Celtic verse form Englyn from the Welsh language is another interesting variation of the quatrain, and is also now popular in the English language.
- In the Malay tradition, syair, pantun and pantoum are arranged in quatrains.