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Description of Rhymed Couplets


Poets sometimes refer to any two consecutive lines in a poem that have any similarity between them as a couplet, whether they are embedded deep within a column of long, epic phrases, or sit separate and seemingly free-floating on the page. Still, what many readers might not realize is that an entire poem can be composed of a single couplet. What's more, if those lines rhyme, the poem can leave a stronger, more lasting effect.

The Couplet Form

Poems are constructed of stanzas, or collections of lines that are comparable to paragraphs in prose. Each stanza is flanked by at least one line of white space on top and bottom. When poets write in form, they often have specific names for stanzas with specific numbers of lines. For example, a tercet is a stanza of three lines, a quatrain is a stanza of four lines, and a couplet is a stanza of two lines.

End and Internal Rhyme

Different kinds of rhyme can be found in and around the lines of a poem. For example, internal rhyme means that rhyming words are embedded within the lines of a stanza. In this case, perhaps the third word of a first line rhymes with the fifth word of a second line. However, when we speak of rhyming couplets, we are usually speaking of couplets that contain end-rhymes, meaning that the rhyming words will each be found at the ends of their respective lines.

True and Slant Rhyme

Two of the most common forms of rhyme are "true" and "slant." True rhymes are practically identical, featuring vowels and consonants that make the same sound. For example:

I am so fat, but so is my cat.

Slant rhyme doesn't sound as perfect as true rhyme. The rhymes are similar, but either the consonant or the vowel sounds go unmatched. For example:

I want to go home and be all alone.

Both examples are rhyming couplets, though they make use of variations with regard to precision.

Function

Poets often compose rhyming couplets because rhyme emphasizes a poem's musicality and can help a poem sound pleasant and cohesive. Rhyme drives home the importance of certain words and, perhaps, the words that preceded them within the line. Because rhyme catches one's ear, it also catches one's attention, which often helps the poet to communicate particular significance. This is why many forms of poetry -- including the English or "Shakespearean" sonnet -- end with a rhyming couplet, providing closure through the repetition of sound.

References
  • "Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry"; Wendy Bishop, 1999
  • Creative Writing Now: Rhyme Schemes
  • "The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry"; Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, 1997
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