Definition of Couplet

A couplet is a literary device which can be defined as having two successive rhyming lines in a verse and has the same meter to form a complete thought. It is marked by a usual rhythm, rhyme scheme and incorporation of specific utterances.

It could an independent poem, and could be a part of other poems such as sonnets in Shakespearean poetry. If a couplet has the ability to stand apart from the rest of the poem, it is independent and hence it is called a closed couplet. A couplet which cannot render a proper meaning alone is called an open couplet.

One of the commonly used couplet examples are these two lines from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

“The time is out of joint, O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!”

Types of Couplets

Here are a few types of couplets:

  • Short Couplet
  • Split Couplet
  • Heroic Couplet (Closed and Open Couplets)
  • Shakespearean Couplet
  • Alexandrine Couplet
  • Qasida
  • Chinese Couplet

Examples of Couplets in Literature

There are many writers who are famous for writing couplets. Just look at the examples of couplets given below.

Example #1

“Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother,
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb …….
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.”

(Sonnet III by William Shakespeare)

This is one of the Shakespearean sonnets that contain 14 lines and there is the couplet at the end of the poem which usually rhymes and concludes the poem. These lines generally give commentary on the theme.

Example #2

“O, no, poor suff’ring Heart, no Change endeavour,
Choose to sustain the smart, rather than leave her;
My ravish’d eyes behold such charms about her,
I can die with her, but not live without her:
One tender Sigh of hers to see me languish,
Will more than pay the price of my past anguish:”

(One Happy Moment by John Dryden)

This extract is an example of closed heroic couplets. The lines are following iamb pentameter pattern. All the couplets are forming complete separate thoughts and ideas, and the rhyme scheme is perfect.

Example #3

“At Sestos Hero dwelt; Hero the fair,
Whom young Apollo courted for her hair,
And offered as a dower his burning throne,
Where she should sit for men to gaze upon.
The outside of her garments were of lawn,
The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;”

(Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe)

This is another very good example of open heroic couplets where the end of each couplet is enjambed – its phrasal and syntactic sense is carried to the next lines. Or in poetic terms it can be said that there is no caesura.

Example #4

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,”

(An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope)

This extract is a good example of closed heroic couplets. Here, all the couplets make complete sense – meaning, they do not carry their sense into the following lines. Moreover, these couplets also rhyme.

Example #5

“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,”

(The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer)

This extract is an example of open heroic couplets that have iambic pentameter pattern. All the lines rhyme, they do not give independent meanings in a single line, and the sense is carried to subsequent lines.

Function of Couplet

The rhyming couplets are usually used in poetry in order to make a poem interesting and rhythmic. They help create a rhyming effect in a poem.

In literature, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and Shakespeare have been famous for using rhyming heroic couplets. In Arabic and Chinese literature, rhyming couplets have also been used extensively.