I have been reading A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, entitled The Making of a Poem, which ‘looks squarely at some of the headaches and mysteries of poetic form’ and answers questions such as ’How does a sonnet work? What are the rules of a sestina, and who established them? What gets repeated in a villanelle? And where?’
Although I am familiar with most of the forms covered in this book, I’m learning a lot of new stuff. For example, I thought a heroic couplet was just a couplet, ‘an element of form rather than a form in itself’. According to this book, ‘the couplet evolved out of parts of a poem’ and by the eighteenth century ‘the heroic couplet reigned supreme’.
A heroic couplet is a rhyming pair of lines that can be built up with further couplets to create a poem of any number of lines about high subject matter. The meter is usually iambic pentameter (ten syllables with alternating stresses) but may also be tetrameter, and the rhyme scheme is aabbcc and so on. It generally has a strong pause or caesura in the middle of a line, usually after the fifth or sixth syllable.
The sharp rhymes and regular beat made it widely used from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century for epigrammatic and satirical poetry, and its ‘fashionable, tight enclosure of sense and sensibility became an emblem for the times’. Which is probably why I had trouble finding examples of modern heroic couplets, other than the two given in the book, 'Strange Meeting' by Wilfred Owen and ‘The J Car’ by Thom Gunn, which are both rather long examples for a mini challenge.
According to Wikipedia, twentieth century authors have occasionally made use of the heroic couplet, often as an allusion to the works of poets of previous centuries. This weekend the challenge is to write a short-ish (no longer than 30 lines) modern poem in heroic couplets about a favourite poet or one of their works - it doesn’t have to be in iambic pentameter but I would like to see use of strong pauses/caesurae.