A quintain (sometimes spelled quintet) is any poetry form or stanza of five lines. The term is particularly associated with the English sonnet, but it also applies to other poetic forms such as the French villanelle and German sängerlied.
The first known use of the term "quintain" in relation to poetry was in 1556 by John Heywood in A Dialogue Concerning Our Present Poets Wherein Are Set Forth the Composition, Structure, and Art of Prose and Verse.
Heywood wrote that "a quintain hath five lines/and therefore they are called quints." In fact, the word "quintain" comes from the Latin quinque meaning "five".
In the context of the sonnet, Thomas Wyatt used the term in a letter written in 1542 to refer to its five-line structure: "As for these new modes they are nothing but quintains." In other words, "quintains" were popular at the time as shorthand for "sonnets".
Wyatt went on to say that "the best are worth five hundred pounds," which suggests that these poems were becoming more popular as art objects rather than as literature.
There are eight different kinds of quintetains. Cinquain (Cinquain): A cinquain is a five-line poem or stanza with a strict syllable count for each line. Adelaide Crapsey, an American poet, created this contemporary form. She named it after the number of lines it has which is also the number of letters in the word.
A cinquain can be used to describe many other types of poems as well. For example, a quatrain is a four-line poem that follows a regular pattern of stress and unstress. Therefore, a cinquain is a five-line poem that follows a regular pattern of stress and unstress. There are eight different kinds of quintetons. Quinton: A quinton is a five-line poem with a strict syllable count for each line. It was invented by John Milton when he was only twenty-one years old. Since then, it has become one of the most popular poetic forms in the world.
Milton used the quinton to great effect during the English Civil War. His enemies accused him of writing treasonous poetry that supported King Charles I against Parliament but he proved them wrong by writing three poems in quinton. The first two poems were so successful that they had to be reprinted within weeks of their publication. They are called "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained".
Quatrain. A four-line stanza with the second and fourth lines rhyming. Quintain. A five-line stanza with the third and fifth lines also rhyming.
Dylan Thomas's renowned poem is composed of five tercets and concludes with a quatrain. This well-known poem by Robert Frost is divided into four quintains, or stanzas of five lines each. Advertisement Emily Dickinson's poem is divided into two sestets, or stanzas of six lines each.
Fitzwalter cites as an example Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night," which is composed of five tercets. He explains that this poem "is one of the most famous poems in English because it is a perfect illustration of how poetry can transform pain into power."
Dickinson's own interpretation of what she called "little songs" was different from that of her contemporary. While Frost wrote his poems to be read at public events, Dickinson wanted her poems to be seen only by others who knew their code. Her poems were meant to be hidden away from view until they could whisper their secrets into the mind's ear.