The Heroic Couplet

Iambic pentameter, as we previously discussed, is a line of poetry made up of five metrical feet, following the unstressed, stressed pattern. Today we’re going to look at a different type of poetry outside of the sonnet that utilizes this format. The heroic couplet is a traditional form of English poetry most often used in epic and narrative poems consisting of pairs of rhyming lines using iambic pentameter . Geoffrey Chaucer pioneered this style in his works, and later, in the Restoration Age, John Dryden perfected it. Here are two examples from Book IV of Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid.

 Alexandrine

Her lofty courser, in the court below,

Who his majestic rider seems to know,

Proud of his purple trappings, paws the ground,

And champs the golden bit, and spreads the foam around.

(ll. 190–193)

 

Alexandrine and Triplet

My Tyrians, at their injur’d queen’s command,

Had toss’d their fires amid the Trojan band;

At once extinguish’d all the faithless name;

And I myself, in vengeance of my shame,

Had fall’n upon the pile, to mend the fun’ral flame.

(ll. 867–871)

 

This, along with iambic tetrameter, creates a steady flow easily applied to the epic. Unlike the sonnet, the heroic couplet can go in indefinitely, which is why it makes for great application in storytelling. Here’s another sample, this time composed by me.

 

Beneath the glowing moon, the monsters came

Intent to claw the flesh from mortal game

Unknown to either creature in this land

Awaited Beowulf, whose strength of hand

Disposed of monsters without weapon’s aid

And thus they fell before his might displayed

 

Try one for yourself! Leave me a comment. Until next week, happy writing!

 

 

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Author: jamesmatthewbyers

James Matthew Byers resides in Wellington, Alabama with his wife, kids, a dog named after an elf, and two tortoises. He has been published in poetry journals and through Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL, where he received his Master's in 2010. His next epic poem, Beowulf: The Midgard Epic, will be published by Stitched Smile Publications, LLC in late 2017.

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