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What is a Heroic Couplet?

A type of poem consisting of two rhymed lines of iambic pentameter.

The Dynamic Duo of Poetry: An Introduction to Heroic Couplets

A heroic couplet is a type of poem consisting of two rhymed lines of iambic pentameter, often used in dramatic verse and epic poetry.

The couplet is called 'heroic' because it was commonly used to convey lofty and serious themes, typically in heroic or epic contexts. The iambic pentameter meter, characterized by a metrical pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables, brings a particular musicality and beat to the lines, lending a sense of grandeur and authority. The strict rhyme scheme also adds a sense of symmetry and order to the poem.

Although heroic couplets were first popularized in the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, the form achieved particular fame and elegance in the work of 18th century poets like Alexander Pope. His epic poem, The Rape of the Lock, is one of the most famous examples of heroic couplets in English literature.

Coupling Up the Classics: Two Heroic Couplets Throughout Literary History

Heroic couplets have long been a favorite of poets and authors across the centuries. Here are two examples of their usage within literature.

The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

'Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.'

This line, from Pope's epic poem The Rape of the Lock, is indicative of his masterful use of the heroic couplet form. It combines a striking visual image with a weighty philosophical sentiment, all in one neat and memorable package.

An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

'For forms of government let fools contest; / Whate'er is best administer'd is best.'

This example, also from Pope's work, showcases how the heroic couplet can be used to convey complex ideas and arguments in a straightforward and accessible manner.