Does Epic Poetry Have a Rhyming Scheme?

The epic, a subgenre of narrative poetry, does not have a particular rhyme scheme. Instead, it’s characterized by three main features, according to M. H. Abrams’ “Glossary of Literary Terms.” All epics are long narrative poems; they deal with serious subject matter, usually centering on a hero and his quest to protect his civilization; and they’re composed in a formal, elevated style. Over the centuries, writers have composed epics in the high style of their day. Sometimes that style involves rhyme, but more often it doesn’t -- perhaps because rhyme can sound sing-songy and detract from the serious mood of the poem.

A Product of Their Time

The most famous Western epics, Homer’s Greek “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and Virgil’s Latin “Aeneid,” use the primary meter of Greek and Roman poetry -- dactylic hexameter -- but no rhyme scheme. However, when Alexander Pope translated “The Iliad” in the early 18th century, he used heroic couplets, which were considered high formal style in the literary circles of Enlightenment England. Heroic couplets consist of iambic pentameter lines that rhyme AA, BB, CC and so forth. John Dryden, translating “The Aeneid” in the mid-17th century, also used heroic couplets. Blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter, was a formal style of the Restoration period in which John Milton wrote, and he used it in his epic poem “Paradise Lost.”

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