Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Heroic Couplets
[page 2]

Part of the couplet's attraction for writers in English has been a sense that the couplets were the form of the greatest work of the proverbial "father of English poetry": Chaucer. Take the famous opening of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, for example:




    Whan that aprill with his shoures soote 

    The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, 

    And bathed every veyne in swich licour 

    Of which vertu engendred is the flour; 



Note that none of these lines contain any punctuation except at the end. As a rule, Chaucer's couplets create a smooth, flowing effect that lets the rhythm of the pentameter lines carry through long sentences without many dramatic stops, or caesurae, in the middle of lines. To understand these effects by hearing them, you can listen to these lines here.

[Web note: if you see Chaucer's lines and wish you were better at reading Middle English--and you should wish so because Middle English sounds terrific when read well--pop over to Larry D. Benson's Teach Yourself to Read Chaucer's Middle English.]

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