The Sound of One Leaf Falling


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

Although no frost occasioned the fall of this November leaf at Brazos Bend State Park, it seemed a fitting illustration for Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquain titled “November Night.”

Invented by Crapsey (1878–1914), her cinquain form relies on traditions seen in Japanese tanka and haiku, including compressed language and formal structure. The five unrhymed lines of a cinquain follow strict requirements; they consist of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables. In addition, Crapsey sought to create the sort of unexpected “break,” or juxtaposition of thoughts, typical of haiku.

Perhaps like Etheree Taylor Armstrong, who invented the poetic form known as the etheree, Crapsey was as interested in the technical problems of her form as in the poetic sentiments they included. As a reviewer in The Independent noted:

To her genuine poetic ability Miss Crapsey added a considerable technical knowledge of metrics. In the verse form which she invented and called the cinquain she has done some of her best work—clear cut ideas sharply focused: single impressions etched in a few significant lines.


Comments always are welcome.
For more about Adelaide Crapsey and her poetry, please click here.

51 thoughts on “The Sound of One Leaf Falling

    1. I just had added the Poetry Foundation link to Crapsey when I read your comment. It seems the difference between the Poetry Foundation discussion and the one at is between the cinquain as a self-contained poem of five lines, and poems structured with five-line stanzas.

  1. An interesting leaf photo and a very nice poem – – even though when I said it out loud, had a bit of trouble with ” frost-crisp’d,” but I guess having to enunciate that slowly, works perfectly to really emphasize the crispness.

    1. You’re not alone in having difficulty when speaking the poem. In fact, one of the articles I read about it noted that, “The tongue and teeth cannot help slightly stumbling over the fricatives and dentals of ‘frost-crisp’d’, the gentle assonance sibilantly summoning the sound of crisp autumn leaves falling to the ground and being trodden underfoot.”

      We talk of ‘reading’ poetry, but I’d bet anything that Crapsey did what most poets do: read and speak aloud while writing, just to be sure the effect was exactly what she wanted.

    1. I thought the leaf was beautiful the moment I noticed it. Although frosty leaves are rare down here, the combination of rust and white suggested frost, and made it a perfect pairing for the poem.

  2. A “frost-crisp’d” leaf in south Texas is a thing of wonder in and of itself.
    Nice photograph!

    To my mind, Crapsey’s cinquain is perhaps better appreciated when read silently than spoken. My mind’s eye focused on the last line as I visualized the leaf “letting go”.

    Pleasant poem and image to make a good day better.

    Thank you!

    1. That’s so true. Every year I hope for the ‘perfect freeze’ to release the frostweed’s icy ‘flowers,’ but I’ve only seen that a couple of times in the hill country.

      There’s another leaf verse in the same vein (!) I always enjoy: Coleridge’s reference to:
      “The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
      That dances as often as dance it can… ”

      With these temperatures, it shouldn’t be long until a lot of letting go begins to happen around here.

    1. Isn’t that leaf beautiful? I looked at it a long while after I’d processed the photo, trying to decide why it was so appealing. Finally, I decided that it reminded me of a vintage fabric. Wouldn’t it make a perfect autumn skirt?

    1. The use of ‘frost-crisp’d’ is interesting, too. It slows everything down before the break, rather like wind currents keeping a leaf aloft before it finally settles to the ground.

    1. One of the things I enjoy about these simple forms (especially haiku and limericks) is that I can compose them without paper and pencil, while I’m at work or just messing around. I think a tromp through the country would be just the thing for composing one. Who knows? Maybe you’ll come back from your week of simplicity and solitude with your very own cinquain!

    1. I’ve never been one who finds autumn sad. Poignant, maybe — but the fall of the last leaves, the falling of the light, and the fall of the temperature all have a certain symmetry that feels poetic, and comforting. Finding a leaf as pretty as this was was (dare I say it?) lagniappe!

  3. Thank you for the info, Linda. I’d heard of cinquain, but I haven’t tried to write one. It intrigues me how much can be said in so few words — kind of like the difference between a short story and a novel. Lovely photo, too!

    1. I’ve been reading some William Zinsser recently; he’s a terrific writer and quite a proponent of paring phrases, sentences, and paragraphs down to the minimum necessary for communicating whatever the author has in mind. I don’t know but suspect he would have admired forms like these — I sure do! You’ve worked with etherees, so you know what a trick it can be to find words that both fit the structure, and do so poetically.

    1. Thanks, Ally. I do enjoy pairing images and poetry, and when they seem to fit as nicely as these, I’m especially pleased. I’m glad you liked both the poem and the little leaf; both seemed to me to resonate with that ‘certain autumn silence.’

    1. That is a great line, isn’t it? When I read it, I realized I usually think of ghosts ‘floating’ rather than walking, and I certainly don’t associate them with sounds, crisp or otherwise. So few words, and yet so much resonance.

    1. Great swaths of autumn color are wonderful, but to paraphase one of my favorite poems by Robert Francis, “One [leaf] at a time. I want to hear what it is saying.”

    1. I’ve always thought of haiku as the poetic equivalent of impressionism: meant to evoke rather than to duplicate reality. There’s no question that the spaces are as important as the words in forms like haiku and cinquain.

      I thought the leaf exceptionally beautiful, partly because the pattern of color and skeletonization covered it entirely. In that respect, it’s a neat, natural equivalent to the poem’s combination of spaces and words.

  4. I have just had a brain wave! I think I’ll try to make this year’s Christmas poem a cinquain! The recipients will be so pleased that I’m not nattering on and on. We shall see!

    1. I’ve seen mentions of the cinquain in various poetry blogs, but didn’t really know (read: hadn’t paid attention to) how they are structured. I like the simplicity, too, although I learned while working with Etherees that a tight structure can be more demanding in some ways than free verse. In any event, once I found the leaf, I knew I had to find a way to present such a pretty bit of autumn.

    1. When I come across a poem like this one — so simple, and yet so perfect — I always wonder how many drafts came before the final product. I don’t doubt there were a good many drafts for this one; that’s why it’s so immediately appealing!

  5. I’ve always appreciated the “rules” of haiku and cinquain — they can be a challenge and that’s what makes them fun. This is a lovely one. And your photo is beautiful. Have a terrific Thanksgiving, Linda!

    1. You’re right that the structure is a good part of the challenge — and of the fun. As in poetry, so in life, I suppose: a little structure’s necessary for the best result! I’m sitting here watching at least seven fox and gray squirrels try to structure their time at the feeders — hilarious, to say the least. A Happy Thanksgiving to you and Rick!

  6. So I’ve long known that working under a set of self-imposed constraints can challenge us and actually help our creativity, with photography being the example I’m most familiar with. Maybe I’ll choose to set out with a single lens of a single focal length and perhaps decide to also only create photographs using a specific shutter speed. But I’d never really thought about how the same might apply for poets, where one can choose to compose using a specific technical form. I like the rhythm of this particular form. It almost has a certain symmetry to it, though not a perfect one, and I think it’s that extra bit of asymmetry I most like about it.

    And regarding your photo and title, it reminds me of a small project, or post, or just a half-formed idea I’ve been working on for the past year or so. Hopefully I’ll share it one day if I’m ever able to finish it.

    1. Isn’t it fun, the way someone else’s post can remind us of an idea we had in the past, but never pursued or completed? I’ve got several such posts in my ‘Task at Hand’ drafts that still need work. Since we’ve got two or three days of heavy rain ahead of us, maybe I’ll take a look at them. It also occurs to me that some ideas need to ‘marinate’ for a while; maybe that’s been true with yours.

      For several years I wrote ‘etherees,’ a poetic form of ten lines with the number of syllables corresponding to each line — like this. Just counting syllables is one thing; adding rhythm, internal rhyme, and meaning’s quite another.

    1. They’re like little glimpses of an ever-shifting reality, and perfect examples of something the poet Archibald MacLeish once wrote: “A poem should not mean, but be.”

  7. I enjoyed the imagery of Crapsey’s cinquain (and was shocked when I misspelled the word and spellcheck actually knew what I meant) paired with your poignant leaf. The subject was a fine choice for a photograph and I enjoyed the hint at a zen koan.

    1. I wondered if someone would catch the reference to the famous koan (“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) and there you are! I was so taken with the leaf; the combination of color and skeletonizing was attractive and a little unusual. I was pleased that the photo came out so well.

    1. I thought of fabric, too. The pattern’s so nicely distributed across the leaf, it really would serve well for a piece of clothing. I thought of a sundress.

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