What is a Couplet?

Poetry is literary work that employs special rhythm and style with emphasis placed on feelings and ideas. There are different ways of engaging in writing poetry, and all of these styles are artistic and quite beautiful. One that is used quite frequently is the Couplet.

What does the poetic term of Couplet mean?

Simply put, a Couplet is two lines of poetic verse in the same meter or rhythm. These two lines rhyme, and form one unit. A Couplet is short and sweet, giving across its idea and emotion with these two lines of verse. Just the word “couple” within the term points to how a Couplet operates; two things that form one.

A place where an individual would find a myriad of Couplets is within the works of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare would often end his sonnets with a Couplet that would summarize the main ideas within his poem. Another famous writer of Couplets was Alexander Pope, often using closed Couplets to get his ideas across.

What is the purpose of a Couplet?

Simply put, a Couplet aims to make a point and a lasting impression with the idea contained within it. However, it is important to not overuse the Couplet, so that when it is used, its effectiveness is not lost. Rather than being numbing to the mind, a Couplet should be thought-provoking, adding to its beauty and the power of verse.

What is an example of a Couplet?

Some famous Couplets from Shakespeare include:

  • “Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,/Being had, to triumph; being lacked, to hope.”
  • “So, till the judgment that yourself arise,/You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.”
  • “Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,/Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.”
  • “You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,/Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.”
  • “How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,/If thy sweet virtue answer, not thy show!”

In conclusion, a Couplet joins two powerful verses that aim to make a lasting point with the reader, not forsaking the beauty and art of poetic expression.

Poetry Writing Prompt: Southern California

Southern California has a ton of imagery already associated with it (see below), that writing a poem describing the place probably will not do it justice. Either way, I decided to rise up to the challenge and see without being literal if I could incorporate the feeling and essence of Southern California in a nonsensical way using words and rhythm.

Before I began writing the poem I jotted down a list of things that instantly came to mind when I thought of Southern California:

  • beach
  • palm trees
  • wave
  • ocean
  • sand
  • coconut
  • surfboards
  • skater boys
  • sunglasses
  • red hot chili peppers
  • TJ miller
  • silicon valley
  • pavement
  • chillax

As I said, I was trying to write a poem that didn’t have a literal story but rather gave the sense of being in Southern California relying on nonsense and perhaps and also trying to emphasize rhythm. I had to figure out what the rhythm of the ocean was. And I couldn’t really like of a way to do that in regards to iambs, so I decided the best way to do that was actually through line breaks and word count.

Burning Sun,
Alleving Water.
Scortching Sun,
Relieving Water.
Blazing Sun,
Comforting Water.
Charing Sun,
Rescuing Water.
Incinerating Sun,
Giving Water.
Melting Sun,
Supporting Water.
Smoldering Sun,
Calming Water.
Torching Sun,
Abating Water.
Baking Sun,
Cooling Water.
Broiling Sun,
Chilling Water.
Cauterizing Sun,
Hushing Water.
Cremating Sun,
Sedating Water.
Roasting Sun,
Quieting Water.
Scalding Sun,
Assauging Water.
Singe-ing Sun,
Appeasing Water.
Smoking Sun,
Blue Water.

Well, it’s not the best piece of poetry that I have ever written. The opposing themes reminded me of the ebb and flow of the waves. I get sunburnt and there’s nothing greater than going into the ocean to cool off from the hot sun. I hope you agree that I captured the essence of California. As they say “It Never Rains In Southern California”

The Meaning of the Poetic Term Caesura

A quick way to describe the term caesura is that it works something like a verbal comma. It is a word of Latin origin which means cut or hewn. In poetry, it is a break in the verse where one phrase comes to an end and another begins.

Caesuras also occur in music. There they, too, represent a break similar to that which occurs in poetry. When used in music they offer pauses where singers have time to catch their breath. In poetry, the speaker also gets a chance to pause to take a breath. In Greek or Latin verse it occurs technically at breaks in the words in a metrical foot.

A simple way to put it is that everyone breathes in between speaking. When they say one phrase, they pause, take a breath and say the next phrase. These pauses are natural and occur in the rhythm of anyone’s speech but no one speaks that they “Went to the store comma and then went home.” A simple pause in the speech indicates this.

The caesura must be implemented in poetry for dramatic effect as well as out of necessity in between a line or sentence. The notation for a pause like this is a comma in most modern poetry. In medieval times a virgule or single line denoted such a pause.

In music, a similar notation in the form of two slanted lines is used to mark pauses in between words or bars where a breath is needed. The marking would technically also indicate that a musician or singer take a quarter rest although in poetry it is usually a single breath.

The epic poem of Beowulf is a great example of the use of this device. Each line ends in a caesura or poetic pause as illustrated in the first passage below:

LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
To him an heir was afterward born,
a son in his halls, whom heaven sent
to favor the folk, feeling their woe
that erst they had lacked an earl for leader
so long a while; the Lord endowed him,
the Wielder of Wonder, with world’s renown.
Famed was this Beowulf: far flew the boast of him,
son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.
So becomes it a youth to quit him well
with his father’s friends, by fee and gift,
that to aid him, aged, in after days,
come warriors willing, should war draw nigh,
liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds
shall an earl have honor in every clan.
Forth he fared at the fated moment,
sturdy Scyld to the shelter of God.
Then they bore him over to ocean’s billow,
loving clansmen, as late he charged them,
while wielded words the winsome Scyld,
the leader beloved who long had ruled….
In the roadstead rocked a ring-dight vessel,
ice-flecked, outbound, atheling’s barge:
there laid they down their darling lord
on the breast of the boat, the breaker-of-rings,
by the mast the mighty one. Many a treasure
fetched from far was freighted with him.
No ship have I known so nobly dight
with weapons of war and weeds of battle,
with breastplate and blade: on his bosom lay
a heaped hoard that hence should go
far o’er the flood with him floating away.
No less these loaded the lordly gifts,
thanes’ huge treasure, than those had done
who in former time forth had sent him
sole on the seas, a suckling child.
High o’er his head they hoist the standard,
a gold-wove banner; let billows take him,
gave him to ocean. Grave were their spirits,
mournful their mood. No man is able
to say in sooth, no son of the halls,
no hero ‘neath heaven, — who harbored that freight!

Our Favorite Poets: William Shakespeare

We admit; we’ve been on a little bit of Shakespeare kick lately. It’s very hard to not think of a more famous poet than Willaim Shakespeare, the Bard himself! In

Born on April 23, 1564, one of the greatest masters of the English language wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets. He was married to Anne Hathaway and together had three children Susanna, Hamnet, and Juliet. Sadly, Hamnet died at just the age of 11 years old. He spent most of the time in London writing and acting in his plays. He died in 1616, at the age of 52, but it is unclear how he died. Many theorize that he died of typhoid fever.

One of my favorite poems by him is All The World’s A Stage. It could be that I am an actor and therefore respond to his comments on life, however, it’s just beautifully written. Here’s reading by Morgan Freeman, with the actual verbiage below:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

What Does The Poetic Device “Iamb” Mean?

One of the prominent literary devices used by poets and writers comes in the form of an “iamb.” This phrase is usually used when describing the rhythm of a poem.

The actual definition states that a poetic iamb is a literary device used as a foot with a combination of unstressed/stressed syllables. It’s all about variation, so a single line in a poem would include both unaccented (short) syllables followed by accented (long) syllables.

Types of Iambs

It’s important to note poetic works don’t have one type of iamb in them. Instead, several different types are used based on what the writer is going for in their work. These types are divided based on how many iambs there are per line.

1) Iambic Dimeter (two stressed syllables per line)
2) Iambic Trimester (three stressed syllables per line)
3) Iambic tetrameter (four stressed syllables per line)
4) Iambic Pentameter (five stressed syllables per line)
5) Iambic Hexameter (six stressed syllables per line)

One way to look at iambs per line is to think of a heartbeat. The emphasis is placed on the first syllable and the second syllable is less emphasized.

Benefits

What is the reason for these being used in poems and other literary works?

The primary benefit involves readability. With the inclusion of these iambs, they rhythm of the poem begins to take shape, guiding the reader on what syllables to put the emphasis on. It’s up to the author of the poem to decide how many iambs to be included per line, where to put the line breaks, etc. Using the iambs as a guide, new meanings to words can emerge.

Famous Use of Iambs 

Shakespeare is a renowned poet known for his use of iambic pentameter (5 heart beats per line). For example, Romeo’s famous monologue in Romeo & Juliet:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

 

Poetry Writing Prompt: Superhero Poems

I decided that I would try a poetry writing prompt and write with you an original piece of poetry. The prompt is by Kelli Russell for National Poetry month and states the following:

Write a poem about a superhero coming to your house and confronting you about something. Somewhere in the poem, you have to stay what your superpower is.

Here goes nothing!

I gasp for air as I am startled awake.
The sound of the window – Crash it makes.
A figure mysteriously appears in front of me.
He is in silhouette, his face I can’t see.
His shape is none other than the Caped Crusader!
Why has he come to my personal dwelling? This invader!
Has he no consideration?
To what do I owe this unexpected visitation?
He moves away from the window. He comes into view.
My eyes adjust enough to see the scowl on his face. Something is askew.
Has he learned my secret?
Has he learned my superpower?
My ability to eat as much as I want and not gain any weight!
Oh! What could he want at this hour!
Does this make me targetted?
Is he here as friend or foe?
Is there anyone else after me?
I do not know!

Well, I don’t think it’s too bad considering that I just made up most of that stuff on the spot. When I knew I had to write about a superhero I knww that Batman was going to be somewhat involved. He’s my favorite superhero of all time. I also knew that if Batman was going to go visit someone it would have to be at night time and the room would be dark. So I tried very hard to get that imagery within the confines of the poem. I personally like to write rhyming poetry even though I know my meter and rhythm are not consistent throughout the piece. I am not Shakespeare. I am Batman!

What Is Poetry?

When defining poetry, the best definition comes from Poetry.org.

“…an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. It consists largely of oral or literary works in which language is used in a manner that is felt by its user and audience to differ from ordinary prose.”

This is what a lot of students who are in creative writing classes fail to understand when they move onto the poetry section of their course. Most students struggle to create rhymes and tell a coherent story from beginning to end. With poetry, that is not a necessary condition.

There are many ways to structure poetry, which we will define in later blogs dedicated to definitions. There are many literary devices that are also used in poetry, again which we will define later. But the most important thing to take away from this article is to understand that poetry is not about the meaning of the words but art in which you can create with them.

Story writing is a form of using language to create art, but poetry is about taking the words themselves and making art, whether it be by using words that “look” weird, sound weird, having matching sounds such as consonants or vowel tones. Sometimes the string of words put together does not make logical sense in terms of the meaning of the words yet upon hearing them make art.

Art itself is subjective. Writing poetry is not to please the audience but to please the author. When writing poetry start with words that resonate with you. Have you ever heard a word spoken out loud and it sent shivers down your spine? Write that word down and use it as inspiration. Find other words that make you feel a certain way. Put them into a paragraph. Congratulations, you’ve written poetry.

Our Favorite Poets: Maya Angelou

Our favorite poets are young and old and come from all walks of life. Whether it’s beatnik Jack Kerouac or the “Steinese” of Gertrude Stein, or even the simple rhymes of Shel Silverstein, each poet has their own style and each style can hold a special place in your heart. The most important thing to know about poetry is that it’s subjective. A favorite poet of mine, could be one of your least favorite poets. In order to love poetry, you must not simply dismiss is it before you give it a chance.

This series will highlight some of our favorite poets and feature one of their outstanding works. This week’s favorite poet is none other than the late Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. The details of her life have been chronicled in her many autobiographies, most famously in I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings. Once learning about her upbringing, her poems resonate even more with the reader. Here’s one of our favorite Maya Angelou poems:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise
I rise
I rise.