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What Is a Rhymed Couplet?

One of the most famous pieces using rhyming couplets is "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Alexander Pope used rhymed couplets in his poems.
Christopher Marlowe was an English poet and playwright who sometimes used rhyming couplets.
The majority of William Shakespeare's 154 sonnets ended with a rhymed couplet.
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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A rhymed couplet, also known as a rhyming couplet, is a couplet that features rhyming words at the end of each of its two lines. Similar to the two lines of poetry within an un-rhymed couplet, those within a rhymed couplet have the same meter as one another. Although the rhymed couplet is one of the simplest types of poems, famous poets throughout history have used it to write poems that are still taught, read, and performed today.

It might be easier to understand the definition of a rhymed couplet after first understanding couplets themselves. A couplet is one entity within a poem that actually is made up of two lines of poetry. There are different types of couplets, but the one feature that all types of couplets share involves poetry lines with matching meter. In poetry terms, the meter is the rhythmic structure of one or more lines within a poem. Like couplets, there are different types of meter, but perhaps the identifying factor most commonly used with meter are syllables, including their patterns and emphasis.

Poets often experiment with couplets, but the two most basic types of couplets are the un-rhymed couplet and the rhymed couplet. The un-rhymed couplet features two lines that share the same meter, but do no end with words that rhyme. The rhymed couplet, on the other hand, features two lines that both share the same meter and end in words that rhyme with one another.

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“The cat chased after the bird / The bird flew home to its nest” is an example of an un-rhymed couplet. The two lines share the same meter, which usually is necessary for a couplet to be considered a couplet. Yet, “bird” and “nest” do not rhyme, so the example is one of an un-rhymed couplet. An example of a rhymed couplet is, “The dog barked at the cat / The fish put on a hat.” Both lines share the same meter, and “cat” and “hat” rhyme.

Often, students begin learning how to recognize and write rhyming couplets early on. Perhaps this is because the rhymed couplet is one of the simplest types of poems. Still, rhyming couplets are features in well-known poems throughout the ages. In addition to William Shakespeare, historical poets like Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and Christopher Marlowe often used rhyming couplets in their poetry. Perhaps one of the most well-recognized pieces involving rhyming couplets is The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

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MrMoody
Post 4

@Charred - Personally, I don’t think that meter is what messes you up. The fact is there is some flexibility there. I’ve read poems written by great poets where the meter was slightly off, but the poem still worked, because the rhyme was there and it expressed the poet’s thoughts perfectly.

That being said I do tend to like reading the unrhymed couplet more, because I think it gives more breathing room to the poem, so to speak, when every line does not have to rhyme. Too much rhyme in a compressed space can be awkward and stilted in my opinion.

Charred
Post 3

@allenJo - I believe that rhyming poems can be a challenge regardless of what language you use, whether it’s old English or modern English. The real issue for me is not the rhyme but the meter.

In my own poetry, I sometimes am able to express the correct thought and even have the right rhyme, but my meter is off. What throws meter off? It’s word choice. You’re choosing the word that doesn’t have the correct cadence for where it’s placed in the stanza.

I think if you can master meter (pardon the alliteration) you will go a long way towards creating good poetry.

allenJo
Post 2

@Mammmood - I took a literature class in college where we studied the Canterbury Tales. We were called upon to read portions of the tales out loud in class.

The couplet poems were a challenge to read aloud because they were in old English of course. I had developed the skill however of mastering the language and its inflections and was considered the best reader of the Tales in class, as dubious a distinction as that might be.

I sometimes wonder if the old English language made the creation of the rhymed couplets easier or harder. Old English has some extra words that we don’t have in our modern language; some of these words fell into place quite neatly in the rhymed poems.

Mammmood
Post 1

What do Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss have in common? They both used poems with rhyming couplets. I think that makes them strange bedfellows in one sense, since one is a literary giant and the other a giant of children’s books.

In another sense, they have a lot in common because I believe that they are both geniuses in their own right. I think the rhymed couplet is the easiest of the poetical structures to work with, and what you make of it is determined more by the poet than the device itself.

In the hands of a literary wordsmith, I think the rhymed couplet can sing and deliver majestic and memorable poetry, for everyone from ages 9 to 99.

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