Let’s All Write Couplets!
by Paul Mathers
On first glance this might seem like a chapter on beef in a text about stew. You can have stew without beef, but an awful lot of stew contains beef, and beef by itself is not stew.
Couplets on their own can be poems. They have a similar austere and compact feel that one gets from haiku. As for finding examples, I fairly stumble over them. Here’s a couplet from Coleridge:
“Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.”
Here’s a possibly familiar folk song:
And so forth. A lot of songs are made of couplets.
Padgett points out different types of couplets. A closed couplet may simply be a thought encapsulated within the rhyme:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.”
While open couplets are ones that rhyme while the thought continues:
“And ever against eating cares
Lap me in soft Lydian airs
Married to immortal verse
Such as the meeting soul may pierce
In notes with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out.”
That’s Joyce Kilmer and John Milton respectively. This latter technique is called enjambment. It prevents the rhyme from sounding too sing-songy. You can also have sentence breaks in the middle of a line. This is called a caesura, presumably because you are stabbing the rhyme scheme repeatedly in the back. We will return to employing the couplet often as we continue through the poetic forms. For now, I thought I would jot down a few of my own.
Simply writing couplets is a bit like writing haiku. You end up with these little slice of life pieces:
“I shall not leave my wifi’s grasp
‘Til I have closed up all my apps.”
“Though I’m not one to claim to be a specially deft cerebrator,
I must insist, to make Reds choice, employ a wine aerator!”
“Just write the script, sawbones, on paper, tissue, or papyrus!
Anything to help me lick this dratted rhinovirus!”
You could go on like that indefinitely (and become a successful recording artist no doubt). But I also need to attempt one of these enjambments.
“I take a daily luncheon walk upon a nature trail
An invigorating diversion and one that never fails
to delight me, save for one consistent undercurrent of dread:
On average, about once a year, a bird poops on my head.”
True story. As you can see, I did not take this form particularly seriously, but that’s because I took this to be more of an exercise than an actual viable poetic form. Much like how one might, when called upon to translate from English into Latin, choose to translate Lady Gaga lyrics for giggles (“Roma, Roma-ma!”)
I think I’ve done enough damage here tonight. Next time: the Eclogue.