Meaning and Examples of Couplet In English Poetry

What is Couplet?

In poetry, a couplet is a pair of lines with the same metre. It is typically composed of two rhymed lines with the same metre. While couplets generally rhyme, not all of them do. If couplets do not rhyme, a poem may use white space to separate them. Couplets with an iambic pentameter metre are referred to as heroic couplets. Additionally, the Poetic epigram is in couplet form. Additionally, couplets can appear in more complex rhyme schemes. For example, Shakespearean sonnets end with a couplet.

Couplets that rhyme are one of the most basic rhyme schemes in poetry. The Canterbury Tales is a collection of rhyming couplets composed by Chaucer. Both John Dryden (17th century) and Alexander Pope (18th century) were renowned for their heroic couplet writing. They appear in literature such as Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Due to the rapidity with which the rhyme occurs in rhyming couplets, it tends to draw attention to itself. Rhyming couplets that are well-written tend to “snap,” as both the rhyme and the idea conclude in two lines. Consider the following examples of rhyming couplets in which both the sense and the sound “rhyme”:

True wit is nature to advantage dress’d;
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.
— Alexander Pope

Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay (at the end of a sonnet)

On the other hand, due to the predictability of their rhyme scheme, rhyming couplets can feel artificial and plodding. Here is a Pope parody of his era’s predictable rhymes:

Where-e’er you find “the cooling western breeze,”
In the next line, it “whispers through the trees;”
If crystal streams “with pleasing murmurs creep,”
The reader’s threatened (not in vain) with “sleep.”