What is a Quatrain?

Quaitrain Form, Definition, Poem Examples

Definition of Quatrain

Quatrain can be defined as,

A poem, unit or stanza of four lines of verse, usually with a rhyme scheme of abab or its variant, xbyb”.


“The rhyming four‐line groups that make up the first eight or twelve lines of a sonnet are also known as quatrains”.

The quatrain is the most commonly used stanza in English poetry and most modern European languages. Most of the ballads and hymns are composed in quatrains where the second and fourth lines rhyme with the rhyming scheme abcb or abab.

The ‘heroic quatrain’ of iambic pentameters also rhymes using the form abab. A different rhyme scheme (abba) is used in the In Memoriam stanza and some other forms.

History and Origin

Quatrain is derived from Middle French, from quatre four, from Latin quattuor. Its first known use is found in 1585.

Various forms of Quatrain poetry appears in poems from ancient civilizations including Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and continues into the 21st century, where it is seen in works published in several 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 Rubaai, well beyond their borders and time.

Poetic Form of Quatrain in Different Types of Poetry

Heroic or Elegiac Stanza: The heroic stanza or elegiac stanza (iambic pentameter, rhyming ABAB or AABB.

Example: Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

Shairi: It is also known as Rustavelian Quatrain and uses the rhyming form aaaa and is mainly used in Urdu and farsi poetry.

Shichigon-zekku: This form is mainly used in Chinese and Japanese poetry. Both rhyme and rhythm are key elements, although the former is not restricted to falling at the end of the phrase.

Ballad Meter:  The Unquiet Grave and The Wife of Usher’s Well are both examples of Quatrain poetry form used in ballad meter.

Hymns:  various forms of hymns employ specific forms of quatrain poetry such as common meter, long meter, and short meter.

Englyn: The thirty syllable, Celtic verse form Englyn from the Welsh language is another interesting variation of the quatrain, and is also used  in the English poetry.

Quatrain Form in English Folk Verse

Quatrains in English folk verse follow the rules truncation (non-filling of metrical positions) at the ends of each line. Each of the possible truncation pattern forms  a consistent unit of multiple stanzas hence forming a verse type.

An example of Quatrain form in English folk verse is as follows:

Herminius smote down Aruns:

Lartius laid Ocnus low,

Right to the heart of Lausulus

Horatius sent a blow.

Lays of Ancient Rome

Additional examples could be found in Asian River and Spook’s Employer.

Examples of Quatrain Poems

The mountain frames the sky (a)

As a shadow of an eagle flies by. (a)

With clouds hanging at its edge (b)

A climber proves his courage on its rocky ledge. (b)

The Mountain

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

-Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard