Adelaide Crapsey

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of presenting a little of what I know about Adelaide Crapsey, commonly credited with inventing the Cinquain and being a founder of the Imagist movement to the Lichfield Poets.

I post the keypoints, my favourite Crapsey Cinquains, and a Cinq Cinquain which the Lichfield poets created on the night:

So who was Adelaide Crapsey?

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) was an American poet best known for establishing the five-line form known as the cinquain.
She had a deep appreciation for metrics and was an admirer of Japanese Tanka and Haiku. Her Cinquain was developed partly as an American analogue of these forms.

Her poetry was published posthumously in 1915 in a collection titled ,Verse, many poems of which were written in the last year of her life, and in the knowledge that she was dying of tuberculosis. Their publication in the year following her death was met with critical acclaim, particularly for the brevity, poise, and metrical sophistication of those she called Cinquains She is considered one of the first Imagist poets.

Her interest in Japanese poetry has also led some critics to link her to the Imagist movement that became popular shortly after she died and was led by the likes of Ezra Pound, H. D., and Amy Lowell. Louis Untermeyer, editor for many years of Modern American Poetry, for example, called her “an unconscious Imagist.” Although her untimely death precluded any chance for her to collaborate with these poets, Crapsey was undoubtedly influenced by some of the same factors that fomented their movement including a desire to pull back from some of the excesses of the Georgian poets. Like Crapsey’s cinquains, Imagist poetry is characterized by the precise use of imagery and economy of language.

She struggled to assemble the manuscript for Verse (which contains many poems still in draft form) as she neared death and clearly intended the collection to be, as Edward Butscher describes, “a sort of last testament and self-memorial.”4 This perception is underscored to her readers by the decision to offer the following poem at the conclusion of Verse:

The Immortal Residue

Wouldst thou find my ashes? Look
In the pages of my book;
And, as these thy hand doth turn,
Know here is my funeral urn.

This brief timeline highlights the major events in the life of Adelaide Crapsey:
1878 – Adelaide Crapsey is born on September 9 in Brooklyn, New York.
1879 – Family moves to Rochester, New York.
1901 – Graduates from Vassar; Sister Emily dies from appendicitis.
1902 – Returns to Kemper Hall to teach literature and history
1904 – Travels to Rome to study at the School of Classical Studies of the American Academy.
1905 – Returned home to attend the heresy trial of her father, Reverend Algernon Sidney Crapsey, an Episcopal minister.
1907 – Older brother Philip dies of malaria; Accompanies father to the Hague Peace Conference and on a walking tour of Wales.
1908 – Stops teaching at Miss Lowe’s due to poor health.
1909 – Returns to Europe spending time in Rome, London, and Kent; Conducts research on metrics at the British Museum; Financial difficulties and health issues.
1911 – Returns from Europe to teach poetics at Smith College; Diagnosed with tuberculin meningitis; Writes first cinquains.
1913 – Collapses and is sent to a private nursing home in Saranac Lake, New York.
1914 – Returns home to Rochester in August; Dies on October 8.

“Niagara, Seen on a Night in November.”

How frail
Above the bulk
Of crashing water hangs
Autumnal, evanescent, wan,
The moon.


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


These be
three silent things:
The falling snow . . . the hour
Before the dawn . . . the mouth of one
Just dead.


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

Lichfield Poets Cinq Cinquaine

Doomed Dominion
Prey to Viking plunder
Loyal to the King in time of War

Three Spires
Reaching skywards
Grey Stone fingers grasping
The heavens seeking salvation
Kings sleep

So far from sea
The wanderer returns
So far from home missed from his hearth

Upon water
Under the world where
Shadows are playing at the art of

Fine square
Market Bustle
Traders tout for business
Punters pause and procrastinate
No sale

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3 Responses to Adelaide Crapsey

  1. LathaPrem Sakhya says:

    I found this very useful for my study of Adelaide Crapsey

  2. A lovely introduction to a gifted poet.

  3. laurie says:

    Adelaide Crapsey was a noted Alumnae from Kemper Hall, an Episcopal boarding school in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the Late 1890″s. She returned there as a teacher in 1902. The school closed in 1975 after graduating 101 classes of women. I graduated in 1974.
    During our high school literary classes, she was never discussed or mentioned. I only found out about her 5 years ago when an editor from the New Yorker magazine emailed me for information on her, as I was the curator of the alumnae website. What a shame we never studied her; i think she may have been avoided since her father was embroiled and convicted of heresy in the Episcopalian church for his teachings.

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