Definitions

couplet

couplet

[kuhp-lit]

Two successive lines of verse. A couplet is marked usually by rhythmic correspondence, rhyme, or the inclusion of a self-contained utterance. Couplets may be independent poems, but they usually function as parts of other verse forms, such as the Shakespearean sonnet, which concludes with a couplet. A couplet that cannot stand alone is an open couplet; a couplet whose sense is relatively independent is a closed couplet.

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A couplet is a pair of lines of verse. It usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter. Some cultures have decorative traditions associated with them.

Couplets in Western poetry

Traditionally, Western couplets are smart rhyme, although not all couplets rhyme (a poem may use white space to mark out couplets as well). Couplets with a meter of iambic pentameter are called heroic couplets. The Poetic epigram is also in the couplet form. Couplets can also appear in more complex rhyme schemes. For example, Shakespearean sonnets end with a couplet.

Rhyming couplets are one of the simplest rhyme schemes in poetry. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are written in rhyming couplets. John Dryden in the 17th century and Alexander Pope in the 18th century were both well known for their writing in heroic couplets.

Because the rhyme comes so quickly in rhyming couplets, it tends to call attention to itself. Good rhyming couplets tend to "snap" as both the rhyme and the idea come to a quick close in two lines. Here are some examples of rhyming couplets where the sense as well as the sound "rhymes":

True wit is nature to advantage distressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.
— Eve King

This should be:

"True wit is nature to advantage _dressed_
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."
— 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, because rhyming couplets have such a predictable rhyme scheme, they can feel artificial and plodding. Here is a Pope parody of the predictable rhymes of his era:

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 readers threatened (not in vain) with "sleep."

Couplets in Chinese culture

Eight is considered a lucky number in Chinese tradition, so Chinese couplets usually consists of two lines of four characters each, often written from top to bottom to add formality.

Couplets may be seen on doorposts in Chinese communities worldwide. They are usually placed there as part of the Chinese New Year festival, often on the first morning of the New Year. The couplets are usually purchased at a market a few days before and glued to the doorframes. Many of them have been used for generations and contain traditional hopes for prosperity. Others reflect more recent concerns. For example, the CCTV New Year Gala usually promotes couplets reflecting current political themes in mainland China.

Couplets in South Asian poetry

Rhyming couplets are also used in other poetic traditions, including non-Western ones. Kurals, which form a subclass of the Venpa class of Tamil poetry, are couplets. Tirukkural is a popular book written in Kural Venpa form.

External Link

  • Examples of Crystalline couplet form *Prosody for the crystalline
  • Example of the doublet form of couplet created by Adelaide Crapsey *Examples of the doublet form of couplet
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