Origins of the Heroic Couplet.

A heroic couplet is a traditional form of English poetry, commonly used for epics and narrative poetry; it refers to poems contructed from a sequence of rhyming pairs of   iambic pentameter lines. The rhyme is always masculine. Use of the heroic couplet was first pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is also widely credited with the first extensive use iambic pentameter.

A frequently cited example illustrating the use of   heroic couplets in this passage from Cooper`s Hill by John Denham, part of this description of the Thames:

          O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
            My great example, as it is my theme!
            Though   deep, yet clear, though   gentle, yet not dull,
            Strong without rage, without o`erflowing full.

The term “heroic couplet” is sometimes reserved for couplets that are largely closed and self-contained, as opposed to the enjambed couplets of poets like John Donne. The heroic couplet is often identified with the English Baroque works of John   Dryden and Alexander Pope. Major poems in the closed couplet, apart from the works of Dryden and Pope, are Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, and John Keats’s Lamia. The form was immensely popular in the 18th century. The looser type of couplet, with occasional enjambment, was one of the standard verse forms in medieval narrative poetry, largely because of the influence of the Canterbury Tales.

English heroic couplets,   especially in Dryden and his followers, are sometimes varied by the use of the occasional alexandrine, or hexameter line, and triplet. Often these two variations are used together to heighten a climax. The breaking of the regular pattern of rhyming pentameter pairs brings about a sense of poetic closure. Here are three examples from Book the fourth of Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid.

          Nor let him then enjoy...