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What are Couplet Poems?

By B. Schreiber
Updated May 17, 2024
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Couplet poems are poems made up of two lines that usually rhyme. The two lines are usually of the same metrical length. In English poetry, meter is usually measured in syllables, and couplet lines are often either eight or ten syllables long. Couplet poems have been used in English poetry for hundreds of years, ever since rhyme became a feature of English poetry. The couplet has also been used as the basic unit, or stanza, in longer, extended poems, and also appears in other poetic forms such as the sonnet.

Writing in the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer may have been the first English poet to use the couplet regularly. The General Prologue to his Canterbury Tales is written in rhyming couplets, as are some of the stories in the collection. Chaucer wrote in ten-syllable lines of five accents called iambic pentameter, which became the standard meter of most couplet poems.

Couplets were sometimes used in the dramas of the late 16th century, which are better known for being written in the unrhymed form known as blank verse. In plays, Shakespeare and his contemporaries occasionally used couplets to mark the end of characters' speeches, as well as scenes and acts. Usually these were closed couplets, or two lines of text that could stand on their own as a single sentence or unit.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, rhyming couplets were often used in extended verse compositions called heroic couplet poems. The heroic couplet takes it names from being used in such epics as well as drama. John Dryden used heroic couplets in plays such as Tyrannick Love and poems including Mac Flecknoe. Alexander Pope is also often regarded as a master of the form. Significant heroic couplet poems by Pope include The Rape of the Lock and An Essay on Man.

Couplets have long been considered well suited to closing other types of poetic forms because they are so concise. The English or Shakespearean sonnet is one such example. This form begins with three four-line stanzas, each of which typically develops a thought or idea. The final couplet of the Shakespearean sonnet is called a turn, and it can summarize the poet's feelings or express an ironic take on the preceding stanzas.

Beginning in the 19th century, couplets began to fall out of favor as a poetic device. Since then, they have largely been displaced by other rhyme schemes as well as unrhymed poetry in general. Nevertheless, they remain an important form of English poetry.

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Discussion Comments

By healthy4life — On Jul 30, 2012

I remember entering a poetry contest when I was in fifth grade. Teachers from different schools were all making their students write couplet poems, and they were choosing the best ones and submitting them.

Two librarians served as judges, and the top three winners got their poems displayed in the library so that everyone who came by could read them. I actually won place for my couplet poem, and I was thrilled!

The poems were all pretty simple, even though they adhered to the format. If I had to write a couplet poem now, I probably couldn't do it unless I made a simple one for a children's book or something.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 29, 2012

I find the famous couplet poems from long ago so beautiful. I know it took a lot of skill to write these, and they will be forever preserved.

Some people find them hard to read, but I just think that is part of their beauty. You have to read them slowly and take time to think about them, because many of them are written in the language of long ago.

My friends all thought I was crazy in high school because I enjoyed reading this required material. I am still a fan of it today, and I go back and read it whenever I am craving some exceptionally well written poetry.

By JackWhack — On Jul 28, 2012

@kylee07drg – I have written couplet poems before, and you are right. It is quite a challenge, but that is what makes it so appealing to me.

I looked at several examples of couplet poems before beginning. I already knew the basic structure, but just having something there to look at helped me out a lot.

Writing couplet poems takes longer than writing blank verse or free verse. However, when you are done, you have a finished product to show off to people who admire structured poetry. I have several people in my family who are big fans of poetry that sticks to a certain meter and that rhymes, and they are thrilled when I succeed at writing a couplet poem.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 27, 2012

Has anyone here ever tried writing rhyming couplet poems? It is seriously hard to do!

I write poetry as a means of expressing my emotions, but I stick to blank verse. I need to be free to say what I want to without worrying about the constraints of meter and rhyme.

Some would say that this doesn't even constitute poetry, but I beg to differ. I think poetry is just a beautiful way of saying what is in your soul. I do divide my thoughts into lines and paragraphs, so it is broken up like a poem, but it doesn't even resemble a couplet.

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