What Are Rhymed Tetrameter Couplets?

In poetry, a rhymed tetrameter couplet indicates a rhyming pattern within a specific number of lines that have a specific number of metered feet. Identify and explore the different meter and rhyme patterns by examining a few popular examples of this poetry format. The key to rhymed tetrameter couplets is a consistent rhythm and rhyme pattern throughout the poem.

Understanding Tetrameter

As you should already understand the concept of rhyme, let’s define tetrameter: It's a line composed of four metrical feet. A metrical foot is the pattern of long (stressed) and short (unstressed) syllables that give a series of words its rhythm. If a dimeter is made up of two identical metric feet, a tetrameter is made up of four feet with the same metrical pattern. In its simplest form, a tetrameter with metrical feet consisting of one unstressed and one stressed syllable each has a rhythm of eight beats: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH.

Understanding Rhythms

The previous simple rhythm is called iambic meter: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In the English language, iambs are the most common type of foot. If you say the following words aloud, you will hear the natural stresses: amuse, destroy and inspire. A trochee is the two-syllable opposite of an iamb, with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. You can hear this in the following terms: happy, dinner and cuddle. A spondee has two stressed syllables (football and heartbreak), a dactyl has one stressed syllable followed by two short syllables (strawberry and tenderly) and an anapest has two syllables followed by a long syllable (understand and interrupt).

Understanding Couplets

A couplet refers to two consecutive, equal metered lines of a poem that most often rhyme. The couplet can create its own stanza or be part of a larger stanza. Closed couplets create a cohesive grammatical structure, such as a sentence. Couplets may stand alone or rely on previous and successive couplets to develop a complete thought or meaning. Tetrameter couplets are also referred to as “short couplets.”

Examples of Rhymed Tetrameter Couplets

William Shakespeare’s “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun” is a perfect example of a rhymed tetrameter couplet. When reading it aloud, you can hear the rhythm: FEAR no MORE the HEAT o’ THE sun / NOR the FURious WINters RAGes. Note that, in this poem, “furious” is read with only two syllables. Each line has four sets of trochaic feet, and the couplet, although it does not rhyme, creates a complete thought. The stanza includes another parallel couplet that completes the whole grammatical sentence and creates the first rhyme pattern, followed by a rhyming couplet that is its own sentence. Other examples to explore include Thomas Hardy’s “Channel Firing” and Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”

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