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Writing

Understanding the Heroic Couplet: Definition and Examples

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

A rhyming couplet is one of the simplest examples of poetic form: a pair of lines with end rhymes. Rhyming couplets can be found everywhere from the lyrical English poetry of Shakespeare to simple schoolyard nursery rhymes. A heroic couplet is a form of the couplet often found within epic or narrative poetry.

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What Is a Heroic Couplet?

A heroic couplet is a pair of rhyming lines that is present in a heroic poem or that relays themes of heroism within a larger poem. Heroic couplets generally consist of two lines written in iambic pentameter, though some poets chose to vary the meter, perhaps using blank verse or incorporating enjambment between the first line and the second line. In general, heroic couplets follow a simple AA end rhyme scheme.

What Is the Difference Between a Couplet and a Heroic Couplet?

A heroic couplet is a specific type of couplet that discusses heroic themes and that usually uses iambic pentameter. An ordinary couplet, on the other hand, is simply two successive lines of poetry—often two lines that rhyme and that employ the same meter.

Couplets can be classified as either open couplets or closed couplets. Open couplets have a complete thought that progresses over a pair of lines with punctuation only at the end of the second line. Closed couplets have an end stop closing out each line.

4 Examples of Heroic Couplets

Though a heroic couplet is most commonly a verse form consisting of two iambic pentameter lines that rhyme, there are variations in meter. Oftentimes the two lines rhyme and are joined together with another heroic couplet with its own rhyme scheme to form a quatrain. Here are some famous examples of heroic couplets:

1. “Cooper’s Hill” by Sir John Denham (1641)

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.

2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1400)

She was a worthy woman Al hir life
Housebondes at church Dore she hadde five

3. Aeneid by Virgil (19 BCE)

Soon had their hosts in bloody battle join'd;
But westward to the sea the sun declin'd.
Intrench'd before the town both armies lie,
While Night with sable wings involves the sky.

4. The Rape of Lock by Alexander Pope (1712)

Here Thou, great Anna! whom three Realms obey,
Dost sometimes Counsel take—and sometimes Tea.

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