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How to Write a Swap Quatrain Poem

Updated on March 23, 2016
Sparrowlet profile image

Katharine writes both modern and traditional poetry. She was named poet laureate for AllPoetry 2015 and has two books of poetry in print.

What is a Swap Quatrain?

A swap quatrain poem is fun to read and easy to write, once you get the hang of it. Learn how to write one and find out how addictive they can be!

A swap quatrain is a four line stanza wherein the first and fourth lines are identical, except that the phrases in them are switched around, or swapped. The rhyme scheme of a swap quatrain is aa, bb. The rhythm that this form produces is very musical, and the reader is usually unaware of the reason why it is so catchy. Join me in learning about this charming and fun to write form and write a swap quatrain poem yourself!

Example of a Swap Quatrain Poem

Cellar Door

I'd like to know what lies behind
the cellar door, what would I find?
I don't quite dare to go, although,
what lies behind, I'd like to know.

My Grandma said there's nothing there-
the furnace and a broken chair
"Why don't you play outside instead?
There's nothing there", my Grandma said.

I need to see inside that room,
to peer behind the door of doom.
As creepy as the place may be,
inside that room I need to see.

I would just bet a little troll
lives there among the furnace coal,
and no one else has seen, as yet
a little troll, I would just bet.

I'm sure you'd find there hides a ghoul,
his ghastly jaws dripping with drool.
If you could look just once behind,
there hides a ghoul, I'm sure you'd find.

I'm not allowed, I can't go in.
I don't see how I can begin
to slay the beasts, for all I've vowed-,
I can't go in, I'm not allowed.

On one fine day, then I'll find out,
I know for sure, without a doubt-
I'll make a plan, I'll find a way
then I'll find out, on one fine day.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

(From the upcoming book of poetry for children, Sparrow's Garden)

As you will notice as you read this poem for children, the first and fourth lines of each stanza are identical, except that the two phrases in each are reversed, or swapped. They rhyme scheme is aa, bb (lines 1 and 2 rhyme and lines 3 and 4 rhyme) Simple, right? Well, not quite. The trick lies in the flow of the lines, particularly line 3 to line 4.

When your readers read your swap quatrain, they shouldn't really notice that the first and 4th lines are swapped. That's because your poem will flow together so well that they'll only be vaguely aware when they get to line 4 that they have read those words in reverse!

You see, you can't simply swap the phrases around in lines 1 and 4 and call it a swap quatrain. That is what I thought at first when a dear poet friend was teaching me this form. This is the poem I came up with on my first try:

A Not-So-Good Swap Quatrain Poem


I've found a rope or I've lost my horse.
The former would be best, of course.
I'm so confused, don't dare to hope-
I've lost my horse or I've found a rope.

I'm turned around, my head's in a spin,
I'm not sure just where to begin.
Don't know where logic can be found-
My head's in a spin, I'm turned around

Too many things that I have to do,
my work's a mess, my house askew.
I'm in a bind, tied up in strings
that I have to do too many things.

I've lost my horse or I've found a rope,
I have no clue how I will cope.
Procrastination breeds remorse
I've found a rope or I've lost my horse.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

You can see that I did use aa, bb rhyme just fine, and I did swap the phrases around from lines 1 to 4 in each stanza. However, this is not a very good swap quatrain! That's because the 3rd lines of each stanza do not blend seamlessly into the 4th lines. To write a good swap quatrain, it must appear, when you read lines 3 and 4, that they were meant to go together - as if they could stand alone in another poem. The goal is to have lines 3 and 4 make sense as one complete thought.

I did manage this pretty well in the third stanza of my not-so-good swap quatrain. Do you see how the lines

I'm in a bind, tied up in strings
that I have to do too many things.

is one complete thought?

But look below that at the final stanza, where

Procrastination breeds remorse.
I've found a rope or I've lost my horse.

do not create one complete thought together at all.

There will be instances, as you get better at swap quatrains, when the 3rd line may be a continuation of the 2nd line and the thought is complete at the end of line 3. In that case, the 4th line does not need to blend as one with the 3rd, but of course, it still has to make sense and sound good! Don't worry about this part yet, you'll see it in the final example.

Once my friend explained that the 3rd and 4th lines should flow smoothly into one another, I gave it another go. This is what I came up with this time:

A Pretty Good Swap Quatrain Poem


When lovers wait, the world waits too,
for true love comes to very few,
and as it always goes with fate,
the world waits too, when lovers wait.

Time stands still when lovers kiss,
showered in raindrops of bliss.
The rain withholds its spell until
when lovers kiss, time stands still.

When lovers part, the oceans calm,
still winds hush the swishing palm.
Till passion shares one beating heart,
the oceans calm when lovers part

And heavens shift when lovers meet,
two souls forming one complete-
then life imparts its sweetest gift,
when lovers meet and heavens shift.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

(Excerpt from To Rend and to Mend: The Making of a Poet by Katharine L. Sparrow)

I did much better here. Notice in stanza 1 how the 3rd and 4th lines flow together and make sense by themselves:

and as it always goes with fate,
the world waits too, when lovers wait.

and in the 4th stanza:

then life imparts its sweetest gift,
when lovers meet and heavens shift.

Now that you have that concept down, you're left with just the mechanics of it all. You have to pick a first line of each stanza that has 2 clauses or phrases, each usually containing a subject and a verb, which may be dependent or independent. Each of your 2 phrases in that first line usually (but not always) have a subject and a verb, so that you will be able to cut them in half and swap them around in the 4th line. It may take you a while to come up with these at first, but if you practice writing swap quatrains you will get better and better at creating them.

The phrases in lines 1 and 4 must be swapped exactly as they are, you many not alter any words to make it fit better! Only punctuation, such as placement of commas, may be changed.

The other mechanical aspect is the rhyme scheme, which is simple in a swap quatrain. Lines 1 and 2 must have an end rhyme and lines 3 and 4 must have an end rhyme.

As far as the meter is concerned, I usually use iambic tetrameter in my swap quatrains, because I find them easiest to swap around and I think they sound best when read aloud. (that would be 8 syllables per line), but you could use iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line), or another meter if you choose to. Say it aloud - if it sounds good, go for it!

To learn how to write in iambic rhythm, try reading the article How to Write in Iambic Pentameter.

So, once you come up with a first line, you already know what your fourth line will be. You then have to come up with lines 2 and 3 whose end words will rhyme with 1 and 4. Let me leave you with one more example of a swap quatrain and then you're on your own:

Helpful Books for Learning to Write Poetry

A Good Example of a Swap Quatrain Poem


To walk beside the sea in March-
blue greens beneath a blustery arch
of steely gray. It comforts me
in March, to walk beside the sea.

Where sea gulls call from skies, asleep
and waiting now for light to creep
around and through the murky pall-
from skies, asleep, where sea gulls call.

Sea grasses bend in whistling shifts
awaiting spring's most precious gifts.
While fluttered flocks of terns ascend
in whistling shifts, sea grasses bend.

And soon I know the sun will warm
to chase the gloom and gusty storm
away, and set the shore aglow.
The sun will warm, and soon, I know.

From sea and sky I turn away,
from churning waves beneath the gray,
where spring hangs on a sea gull's cry-
I turn away from sea and sky.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

Here you can see what I was talking about in stanza 4. There, the 3rd line is a continuation of the 2nd line and the thought ends there. Line 4 in this stanza is its own separate thought, but it is swapped around properly, and it certainly flows with the rest of that stanza, and that is fine to do.

Writing a swap quatrain is challenging at first, but once you get it, you get it! Then it becomes an easy and fun form to write in, and is appropriate for both whimsical and children's poems as well as those with a more serious or lyrical theme. Give it a try and see if you can write a swap quatrain that works!

* Now try your hand at a Triolet poem or a Sparrowlet poem!

.... then try writing an English sonnet!

This article is dedicated to a dear friend and a wonderful poet, Ducky.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

Comments Welcome!

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    • profile image

      rula hijazi 5 years ago

      Simply wonderful!!!!! 5 stars ,no no 10!

      I'll give it a shoot :)

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Well, Tim!! You're very poetic, for sure! Yes, new forms take time and effort to grasp, but once you get it.... you get it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      I'm baffled, perplexed and maybe betwixt,

      to lie or lay ahead, not knowing my rhyme,

      I strive to see, if maybe it be so true,

      where is my hammer, my wrench, get to work

      Ok, I say, maybe not today, is then,

      Searching the sky, hearing time say when,

      looking hither and fro, I go this way,

      Today, maybe and not, then, OK, I say.

      Hmmmmm, I think I will play with the aa bb cc's a bit and see what the left tells the right while the center makes a call. What is the sum of the two, any hoot I say? A candle must be lit for the left or is it right and incense awaits the yellow light.

      An adventure is ahead, awaiting to see just what the heck I did say, it does allude me, you see. Pound and pound the keys won't do, a sonnett, no, not the guns and sons, but a dance or two upon the keys will bring what was taught, alas, it be another Will, I do believe.

      Just playing a bit, while sharing, to let you know a thought was brewed, within the cauldron of consonants, herbs you say with dash of verbs, looking for syllables is the key, oh how silly I never knew, until today.

      The sum of the parts just very well may be greater than the whole, oh my, my, sparrow you seemed to have let something run asunder, just maybe so, lightening strikes not twice but thrice. Oh, thank you so very much! Off I go to see what I did say . . . :)


    • profile image

      me 6 years ago

      very good swap quatrains!

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 6 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you I plan on giving them a try. Jamie

    • lafamillia profile image

      lafamillia 6 years ago from Soutcentral Europe

      Bravo, nicely said. :}

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Bravo, rjsadowski! Well done! :)

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 6 years ago

      I like your rhyme, I must explain

      Although I cannot see the gain

      Of clauses that reverse with time

      I must explain, I like your rhyme.

    • profile image

      Poetic Fool 6 years ago

      sparrowlet, the swap quatrain poem sound intriguing. I will have to give it a try. Your hub was educational and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I have never written a swap quatrain poem before. The form sounds intriguing. Welcome to Hubpages.