Inspired and Innovative Poetess

Creator of the Cinquain

Let me sing longer,
Only a little longer.

---from Cornhuskers

The Little Apple in the Big Apple's Eye

Adelaide Crapsey was born in New York in 1878 on the ninth of September --in Brooklyn to be exact. The mother was the former Miss Adelaide Trowbridge and her father was the Episcopal Reverend Algernon Sidney Crapsey. This assistant minister of Trinity Church received a Rectorship of St. Andrew's Episcopal Parish in Rochester, New York so they moved there before she was one year of age.

After going to the public schools in Rochester until 1893, she then went to Kemper Hall Preparatory School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Being the top of her graduating class of 1897 allowed her facile entrance to prestigious Vassar College. Not only was she class poet for most of her educational stay there, but she had the top editor spot for the 1901 Vassarion -- the same year she graduated.

Frailty, Thy Name is Woman

The Warning
     ---- by Adelaide Crapsey

Just now,
Out of the strange
Still strange, as still...
A white moth flew...Why am I grown
So cold?1

The beginnings of sickly weakness that were going to plague this talented young lady showed up in her life just as she planned to embark on her career in education that first year after she graduated. The death of her sister Emily in 1901 also contributed to the downward spiral of her disposition, so she waited until the next year to become the literature and history teacher at her old school, Kemper Hall. After two years as school marm she became a scholar at the American Academy in Rome in their School of Classical Studies.


(Seen on a Night in November)

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

No News is Good News

Like some kind of Ides of March, Adelaide received word while in Rome of her father's charges of heresy by the Episcopal Church. She left Italy in 1905 to be at his trial in Rochester. By 1906, her father stripped of all his Church ministry, she managed to teach at Miss Lowe's School in Stamford, Connecticut, but by May of the next year tragedy struck again in the form of the grim reaper-- who visited her big brother Philip. Her health declining in despair, it took another bad turn, even while trying to recuperate 'abroad' with her father's attendance at the Hague Peace Conference. Finally, strength draining continually, she quit teaching, and made another health pilgrimage to Rome in 1908. Her time in Rome, Paris, Fiesole and, and in London, England for the next three years culminated in her work on A Study in English Metrics, of which the incomplete analyses were published in 1918. She had really gotten involved with English prosody at the British Museum in 1910, and she was in contact with one of the foremost in that field --T.S. Omond.

T.B. Sheets --of Poetry


I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.

In February 1911, attempting to regain her academic career, she returned to the United States to Smith College to give courses in poetics. Her efforts to become a viable member of academia were met by increasing fatigue. By the summer she finally heard the prognosis: tuberculosis. Keeping the disclosure from her loved ones, she pressed on teaching. Passing out one day in July of 1913, she had to check herself in to a private nursing home at Saranac Lake. While to her students this was a sad loss, for posterity it became an opportunity as she wrote the majority of her "fastidious" poetry and other work at this sanitarium.


I make my shroud but no one knows,
So shimmering fine it is and fair,
With stitches set in even rows.
I make my shroud but no one knows.
In door-way where the lilac blows,
Humming a little wandering air,
I make my shroud and no one knows,
So shimmering fine it is and fair.2

The Best for Last

Her profound expertise in rhythm and meter was the foundation for the invention of the novel verse form, the cinquain. Twenty-two syllables stanza in five lines, that not only is similar to Haiku, but also to Tanka. The predominantly iambic cadence is carried throughout the two syllables in the beginning and ending lines, with four, six and then eight in the middle lines, respectively.

The Lonely Death

In the cold I will rise, I will bathe
In waters of ice; myself
Will shiver, and shrive myself,
Alone in the dawn, and anoint
Forehead and feet and hands;
I will shutter the windows from light,
I will place in their sockets the four
Tall candles and set them aflame
In the grey of the dawn; and myself
Will lay myself straight in my bed,
And draw the sheet under my chin.

In August 1914 she went to stay at the family home in Rochester. However, instead of friendly surroundings prompting recovery, she must have embraced the peace she found, her life's work complete, and passed from us on October 8, 1914. Claude Bragdon published her poetry, edited by Jean Webster in a compilation, Verse in 1915. The 'hip' youth of the time lustily ingested her work. Later editions in 1922 and 1934 increased exposure with prior unseen oeuvres. She left behind many letters and notes as well as phonetics studies.

Moon Shadows

Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead.

1 This is an example of Crapsley's cinquains, repeated throughout this biography.

2 This is a triolet.

More Crapsey Cinquains:
Night Winds

The old
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered trees that I
Should weep?


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

Susanna and the Elders

"Why do
You thus devise
Evil against her?" "For that
She is beautiful, delicate;

Some other poems are: "Presentation Copy," "The Fiddler," "The Witch," "Snow," "The Blessed Queen of Heaven," "Dirge," and "Bridget! Saint Bride!"

James D. Hart, The Oxford Companion to American Literature, Oxford University Press: NYC; 1965.

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