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The Heroic Couplet

By Brian Bishop and Jacob Karsch

Jacob Karsch

on 16 March 2015

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Transcript of The Heroic Couplet

This form of poetry became immensely popular in the 18th century with British poets.
Pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales
This epic about virtuous women from history and mythology is considered the 'debut' of the heroic couplet in English literature:

The Heroic Couplet
Heroic Couplet
The name "heroic couplet" was partly adopted because they were used in poems to describe heroic events
ie. deeds of high accomplishment and matters of high admiration
largely known for being self contained and end-stopped, as opposed to enjambed couplets
Translation of the Aenid, a Latin Epic Poem written by Virgil:

One sang, "The ship sails over the salt foam,
Will bring the merchants and my leman home";
Some other sings, "I will be blithe and light,
Mine heart is leant upon so goodly wight."
Create Your Own Heroic Couplet
1. Must be iambic pentameter
2. Thought must end in the two line unit
3. Must rhyme
aa, bb, cc
, etc.
Two end-stopped iambic pentameter lines rhymed aa, bb, cc with the though usually completed in the two-line unit

From Alexander Pope:
But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
Iambic pentamieter is a commonly used type of metrical line in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The rhythm is created through use of unstressed and stressed syllables (long and short).
The word "trapeze" is an example of an iambic pair of syllables, since the word is made up of two syllables ("tra-peze") and pronounced with the stress on the second syllable ("tra-
A line of iambic pentameter is made up of five pairs of unstressed/stressed or short/long syllables.
For thy trespas, and understond hit here: (a)
Thou shalt, whyl that thou livest, yeer by yere, (a)
The moste party of thy tyme spende (b)
In making of a glorious Legende (b)
Of Gode Wommen, maidenes and wyves, (c)
That weren trewe in lovinge al hir lyves; (c)
And telle of false men that hem bitrayen, (d)
That al hir lyf ne doon nat but assayen (d)
A frequently used example illustrating the use of heroic couplets is a passage from Cooper's Hill by John Denham describing the Thames River:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull;
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.
By Jacob Karsch and Brian Bishop
Full transcript