Heroic couplet

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Heroic couplet

Heroic couplet: A pair of rhymed lines written in iambic pentameter. Fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, the first English poet to use the heroic couplet extensively, is sometimes also credited with introducing or even developing the form. In the mid-seventeenth century, the heroic couplet became the dominant form of English verse, the principal meter for poems and plays throughout the Neoclassical Period; indeed, the appellation heroic stems from use of the couplet in epic poetry of the time. Neoclassical heroic couplets were typically closed, meaning that each pair of lines comprised a discrete grammatical unit and expressed a complete thought. Beginning with the Romantic Period, use of the heroic couplet declined substantially; today, the form is all but extinct.

EXAMPLE: The following lines from Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” (1712, 1714):

Meanwhile, declining from the noon of day,

The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,

And wretches hang that jury-men may dine… .