I studied Modernist poetry

I studied Modernist poetry right up to the graduate level, and at no point did I encounter the name “Adelaide Crapsey.” Certainly, I would’ve remembered a name like that.

The best summary I could find about Crapsey’s career comes from a piece entitled “Tanka and Haiku Come to America”. Crapsey started off studying English prosody in London in 1910 and became one of the earliest English writers to be influenced by Japanese verse forms.

Crapsey developed her own poetic form known as the cinquain. It is related to haiku and tanka, in subject as well as appearance. The cinquain is an unrhymed poem of five lines, featuring two syllables in the first line, four syllables in the second line, six in the third, eight in the fourth, and concluding with a final line of two syallables. (I’ve also seen it broken down in terms of rhythmic stresses–one, two, three, four and one. As with haiku, I’m sure the best ones are rarely the result of obsessive syllable-counting.)

Cinquains are still occasionally written today. The haiku would subsequently become something of a model for the Imagist movement, under the influence of Ezra Pound and especially Amy Lowell.

I’ve been able to come across a few examples of Crapsey’s cinquains. They fascinate me and I’ve been reading them over and over as if they are the fragments of Heraclitus.

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Just now,
Out of the strange
Still dusk . . . as strange, as still . . .
A white moth flew . . . Why am I grown
So cold?

Adelaide Crapsey’s life was cut short when she died of tuberculosis in 1914. She was 37.