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Sunday Scribblings #128: A Cumulative Poem is a Great Way to Wish You the Best

Today brings us closer to the holiday season, and for me, the week starts with celebrating my eldest’s 20th birthday!!! And as the festivities accumulate, I thought a cumulative poem is a great way to send warm wishes

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Notepad and a pen over it with a cup of coffee next to it. words read Sunday Scribblings, and this is for Sunday Scribblings #127: Tritina for Triple the Fun

Poetic Sundays: The Cumulative Poem

Having already heard the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song a few times (well, more than a few actually) since Christmas songs started playing everywhere (on radio stations, in malls, and etcs.), I decided to use that as my inspiration for this week’s Poetic Sundays. So here is the cumulative poem, or a poetic cumulative way to wish others the very best of the season as you make up your own poem; or simply write one for fun!

What is the Cumulative Poem?

So the cumulative poem is one where we introduce a line or phrase in the first verse of the poem, and then repeat it in subsequent verses while also adding one new additional line in each verse, and continuing to add all the lines in the following verse plus a new additional line each time. Thus, each next stanza or verse is longer than the previous line by that one line or phrase.

It is repetitive, fun, and a memory challenge as well in its own cool way! Cumulative rhymes are always popular with children, and can help in learning language, rhyme, rhythm, and story telling all in one while building memory skills at the same time.

Cumulative poems or songs while many a times are a listing of sorts, they very often also tell stories that take us in different directions as the poem progresses, linking different stories or characters together in cool ways. Which is why it sometimes also called a chain tale/poem. Using repeated action or dialogue, the story is built up with each subsequent stanza or verse, and depends upon the elements of repetition and rhythm to add impact and effect.

A Cumulative Poem’s Characteristics

So, at the very basic, a cumulative poem’s elements are that it

  • is stanzaic: at least two stanzas (and stanzas most likely of varying length or with lines of varying length)
  • has no specific rhyming or meter and left to the poet if they chose to rhyme parts of it or not (same with maintaining meter or syllabic count across lines/phrases/stanzas)
  • has repetition as the key element

Further Reading

Popular cumulative rhymes include the following:

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • This is the House that Jack Built
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
  • And The Green Grass Grew All Around
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm

How to Write a Cumulative Poem

A few variations are present so you could do one of a few things when you write this poem. Here are two of them:

First Option

a) Follow the pattern of The Twelve Days of Christmas, where every stanza or verse of the poem has two lines, and the second line is cumulative while the first line can have a slight change in wording to indicate movement.

b) The first line of each verse has a slight change (like ‘first day’ changing to ‘second day’ in the Christmas song). The second line of each verse adds a new item or phrase in addition to the item(s) in all the previous verses (as you can see with the first two verses of the Christmas song below:)

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent (or “gave”) to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

c) Keep building the poem in this fashion for however long you wish the poem to be. Predetermining the number of items or phrases will help determine the length of the poem.

Second Option

Old MacDonald or even The Green Grass Grows All Around both follow a similar structure to the Christmas song with a slight difference. In these, a few lines each time get added to the start usually (sometimes the end) of the subsequent verse, rather than just changing the two lines of each verse/stanza.

So, as you can see below for one of them (and most likely know from hearing both of them before), in both these poems/songs, you can see that the refrain as well as the new additions are several lines long

You can see what I mean below (and see the complete lyrics here). The refrains/repetitions are bolded below for the first two verses of this song.

There was a hole (There was a hole)
In the middle of the ground. (In the middle of the ground)
The prettiest hole (The prettiest hole)
That you ever did see. (That you ever did see)
And the green grass grows all around, all around.
And the green grass grows all around.

And in this hole, (And in this hole)
There was a tree. (There was a tree)
The prettiest tree (The prettiest hole)
That you ever did see. (That you ever did see)
Well, the tree in the hole and the hole in the ground.
And the green grass grows all around, all around.
And the green grass grows all around.

Other Options and Tips

  • You could choose to switch things around by starting with the refrain and then adding the new items to it at the end.
  • Remember to move the story along (like with The House that Jack Built), or add to a list (like with the list of gifts in The Twelve Days, or animals in Old MacDonald’s farm) as you advance in the poem/song.
  • Cumulative poems can easily be made into a group exercise for classrooms with each child providing that additional new element to the poem.
  • If you want to rhyme, you could do so with adding twists to the poem (like with The House that Jack Built which has rhyme, rhythm, story, and the coolest connections as we go from that malt to forlorn maidens and so much more!)
  • Keep it short, or make it an epic poem. Tell a story or write a list. Do whatever,. For it is your poem, and last but not the least,
  • Have fun!

My Attempt at the Cumulative Poem

I took a slightly different path to write it, but definitely tried to build upon the first stanza. I do hope to write one closer to traditional cumulative songs soon.

My Cumulative Wish
This very moment, I wish you joy
Lots and lots of it, oh boy!

This very moment on this day,
I wish you joy, and happiness too
Lots of both for me and you!

This very moment on this day
of this festive holiday month (yay),
I wish you joy, happiness, and cheer
Lots of all to last through years!
~ Vidya Tiru @ LadyInReadWrites


On My Blog And the Homefront

Here are the posts that made their way out into the world this past week on my blog:


On My Blog and On the Homefront

A couple of books I need to share plus two other things I meant to share last week but intentionally moved to this week. So you will find me posting most days this coming week.

On the home front, my son will be bidding goodbye to the teens on the 19th (gosh, he is 20 already!!!) and my high-schooler is going to be busy with finals for the first half of the school year before the holidays begin on Friday this week (yay!)

This Week’s Celebrations

Literary Celebrations (close-to-it also!)

  • Literary birthdays this week include: My son (I love his writing!), Robin Sloan and Daniel Silva on the 19th; Kate Atkinson and Sandra Cisneros on the 20th of Dec; Laini Taylor on the 22nd of December; Carol Ann Duffy on the 23rd; Mary Higgins Clark and Stephanie Meyer on Dec 24; David Sedaris and Henry Miller on 26th Dec
  • Dec 21st is Crossword Puzzle Day and Phileas Fogg Win A Wager Day
  • A’Phabet Day or No “L” Day sounds like fun, and celebrated on the 25th of December

Foodie Observations and Celebrations

Other Observations and Celebrations

Related Reads

  • Last year’s Poetic Sunday around this week brought you the Wreath form
  • And read more about the carol here as you go caroling on caroling day

Wrapping up my Sunday Scribblings

So dear reader, you have reached the end of this Sunday Scribblings! As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about this post.

Linking this to the Sunday Post over at the Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Salon

9 thoughts on “Sunday Scribblings #128: A Cumulative Poem is a Great Way to Wish You the Best

  1. You are genius! Obviously, I knew cumulative poems – without knowing that they were cumulative poems 😉 I enjoyed reading your interesting, educating, and inspiring post on this kind of fun poetry a lot! I love learning something new in an entertaining way and that’s what I always find on your blog.

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