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  "The pantoum is a Malay form.  It is written in
couplets and repeats whole lines in an interlocking
pattern.  The second and fouth lines of any stanza
become the first and third lines of the stanza that
follows.  In the pantoum's last stanza, the first and
third lines of the opening are finally repeated as the
fourth and second lines.  The order of those lines
can be reversed, but an ideal pantoum will end with
the poem's opening line - creating a kind of circle."

Pattern for repeating lines in a pantoum:

First line          a      (letters = whole lines,
Second line      b       not rhymes)
Third line         c
Fourth line       d

Second line      b      Note: Don't think, because
Fifth line           e      of this example, that pantoums
Fourth line       d       must always be three stanzas
Sixth line          f        long.  They can be any length.

Fifth line           e
Third line          c
Sixth line           f
First line           a

"Pantoums can expand, accordion-like, into infinitely
long poems, but most are fairly short since they tax
the poet's ingenuity and the reader's patience.  The
shortest pantoum would consist of two stanzas, since
something must repeat and circle around.  A pantoum
can rhyme, but doesn't have to.  If it does rhyme, the
obvious scheme is the interweaving A-B-A-B."

"Here is 'Details,' a pantoum by Judith Baumel:

A particular understanding, peculiar knowledge -
the weaver knows each string of warp;
a comfort of touch.  Fingertips
sleying, drawing-in the thread,

the weaver knows each string of warp,
its path and place in the fabric.
Sleying, drawing-in the thread,
each thin piece evolves specific, separate.

Its path and place in the fabric
join with others to form the whole.
Each thin piece evolves specific, separate,
something calm and repetitive,

joins with others to form a whole
as the cook making prune jam -
something calm and repetitive -
repeats each task with regular skill.

As the cook making prune jam
pits and skins the fruit,
repeats each task with regular skill,
warm boiled fruit slips through hands.

Pits and skins.  The fruit:
each reward of familiar flesh.
Warm boiled fruit slips through hands
and fingers remember

each reward of familiar flesh
for lovers in a darkened, quiet bed.
And fingers remember
how the body's map of texture changes.

For lovers in a darkened, quiet bed
each velvet hair on the low curve of back,
the body's map of texture changes
to find, perhaps, the zipper of a scar.

Each velvet hair on the low curve of back;
a comfort of touch, though fingertips
find, perhaps, the zipper of a scar,
a particular understanding, peculiar knowledge."

(Creating Poetry, John Drury, Writer's Digest Books,
Cincinnati, Ohio.)

"Malay pantun; in French misspelt pantoum for
pantoun (Devic in Littre Suppl.)."

  "A verse form in Malay, also imitated in French
and English.  Also attrib.

1783 W. Marsden Hist. Sumatra 162 The essentials
in the composition of the pantoon..are the rhthmus
and the figure, particularly the latter, which they
consider as the life and spirit of the poetry.

1821 J. Leyden tr. Malay Annals 83 They sing of it
in Pantuns.  Ibid. 259 There came a Pantun poet,
who was famous for his skill in horsemanship.

1833 Encycl. Brit. XV. 326 The pantuns are
improvised poems, generally of four lines, in which
the first and third and the second and fourth rhyme.
The meaning intended to be conveyed is expressed
in the second couplet, whereas the first contains a
simile or distant allusion to the second, or often has,
beyond the rhyme, no connexion with the second
at all.

1887 Sat. Rev. 3 Dec. 770 Among the verse-forms
that are little used we must notice as new to us the
droll and clever pantoum 'En Route".

1897 Daily News 2 Aug. 4/6 Very few people know
what a Pantoum is; a Malay form of verse
patented by Mr. Austin Dobson.

1964 M. Taib Bin Osman in Wang Gung-Wu
Malaysia III. xv. 211 The pantun can be considered
as folk-ditty; it is used on almost all occasions in
Malay life.

1970 New Yorker 14 Nov. 58/1 She drafted three
poems - another rondeau, a pantoum, and a

1975 'G. Black' Big Wind x. 183 She was singing a
Malay pantun, a verse form tending to the obscene.

(Oxford English Dictionary © 2000 Oxford University Press.)

NPPress Editor's Note:

"It should be noted from the above that the Pantoum,
Pantoun, Pantoon or Pantun (whichever spelling you
prefer) has been around for quite some time.  

One might also note, as is the case with other non-English
forms, or forms originally created in a non-English speaking
culture, that the application of English words to the
non-native form creates a voice unlike the form when
composed in the form's native language.  This is neither
good nor bad, but something to remember when a
specific form "just doesn't sound right" when written
written in a language other than that of its parent.

I've heard poems written and read in languages I did
not comprehend, but enjoyed none-the-less because
of the musical or lyrical quality of the form in its native
language.  However, when hearing the same form done
in English, it sometimes seemed strange to the ear, even
though I fully understood the meaning of the poem and
appreciated the poet's skill in recreating the complex
rhyme or meter of the form intended." 


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