Adelaide Crapsey Biography

adelaide biography
Adelaide Crapsey – early 1900s

adelaide biography
Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the third daughter of Episcopalian Rev. Algernon Sidney Crapsey and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey. She was an honours student at Vassar College, and then became a teacher. She contracted tuberculosis somewhere around 1903, and died on October 8, 1914.

She had been working on a study of metrics that proved too exhausting for her to continue after the onset of her illness, and so she concentrated on poetry. She is known as the inventor of the cinquain – a poem of 5 short lines of unequal length, of which Niagara is one. Her poems were published posthumously.

See her poem Niagara, Seen on a Night in November

About The Cinquain

Closely related to the Japanese hokku is a little form invented by Adelaide Crapsey. She called it a cinquain.  Verse published after her death contains twenty-eight poems in this pattern. They too are exquisite little atmosphere poems. They suggest, as do the Japanese poems, the feeling of things and circumstances. Absence of rhyme gives them the same elusive charm. The scheme is five iambic lines arranged one foot on the first line, two feet on the second, three on the third,  four on the fourth and one on the fifth. Substitutions frequently vary the music.

As an expression of the frail inventor’s spirit, the cinquain form has special poignancy. Miss Crapsey was a victim of tuberculosis. She wrote most of the poetry which we have today at Saranac*. In fact she gathered her poems together as her memorial.

Her pattern inspired young versifiers. When their first experiments appeared in print a reader remarked that they irritated her. “They promise so much,” she complained, “touch the feelings and then leave one nowhere to think it all out for one’s self!” That is exactly what Japanese poetry and cinquains are intended to do: they “tease one out of thought’ as Keats says it.

About the Cinquain From:  Wrinn, Mary J. J.  The Hollow Reed.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935

*Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium, later the Trudeau Sanatorium, in Saranac Lake, New York.

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