What Are the Characteristics of Heroic Couplet?

A heroic couplet is a form of writing that consists of two iambic pentameter lines rhyming together at the end. There are set patterns for writing a heroic couplet but there are some occasional variations in heroic couplet. All good wielders of the heroic couplet used such variations to counteract the possibility of monotony caused by its peculiar singsong. We will discuss some characteristics of a regular heroic couplet including its variations.

Look at an example of a heroic couplet

We think our fathers fool, as wise we grow

Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.


Characteristics of Heroic Couplet

  • The heroic couplet makes itself an independent unit, just like a stanza.
  • In a heroic couplet, sometime the sense of a one couplet is allowed to run over from one couplet to the following couplet.
  • Each line of the heroic couplet consists of five feet and every foot consist of two syllables; the second syllable in each foot is stressed or accented.
  •  The position of the pause in heroic couplet is indicated by a comma.
  •  The last syllable of first line rhymes with the last syllable of the second line.
  • There are usually two pauses or stop in each of the two lines of a heroic couplet
  • Normally, one at the end; known as end-stop and the second one is somewhere in the middle and known as middle-stop or caesura.
  • Caesura is generally placed after the fourth or sixth syllable, and it is indicated by a comma or a semicolon.
  • The rhyme is limited to the ending syllables of both lines as ‘grow and so’  in the above given example and both of which are stressed.
  • In the closed couplet variety, the sense is completed within one couplet and each thus forms a complete sentence. The example quoted above is closed heroic couplet.
  • In the run-on variety, the sense of one couplet is shifted to another till it is completed. In such cases, the individual couplet does not form a unit, but the unit is formed by a verse-paragraph (group of couplets) which completes the sense. This run-on is known as enjambment.
  • Its promptness, balance, and ‘epigrammatic flavors make it an appropriate tool, mainly for satiric and narrative poetry.
  • It is not suitable for, lyrical, passionate, tender, or elegiac verse.
  • It has brevity of expression and there is nothing languorous or slumberous about it unlike Spenserian stanza.
  • It is a perfect form for epigrammatic language. Pope is best among all the English poets who used a perfect form of epigrammatic expressions with in his poetry specially in heroic couplet. .
  • For its short and pithy points which look like proverbs or ‘axioms make it an appropriate medium of satiric poetry. The golden age of English satire was also the golden age of the heroic couplet.
  • The use of the heroic couplet demands a specific discipline and focused attention from the poet.

Some Variation in Heroic Couplet

  • In some cases, the sentence structure is independent of the metre. The lines are not end-stopped.
  • Sometimes one of the two lines or both lines of a heroic couplet may not be exact pentameters. The poet may use some other kind of feet instead of exact iambic feet.
  • In few cases, the number of syllables in each line can vary; these may be eleven or nine.
  • Sometimes the caesura may not occur in a couplet at all. The poets exclude it for speed.
  • The rhyme may not be limited to the ending syllables of both lines but it may extend to the two ending syllables of each line. Two ending syllable rhyme is known as double rhyme or feminine rhyme. Look at below given example:

Then all for women, painting rhyming drinking,

Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking

“Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel”

  • Seldom, it may give place to a triplet: a set of three iambic pentameters all rhyming together or two iambic pentameters followed by a rhyming alexandrine (an iambic hexameter).