My Heroic Couplet (a tough little bugger): Open Form on the Closed Couplet

So, I read about the form and then I implemented it, and what they say is true.

[My Example of an Open Form Essay– examined by my students in search of guidance regarding: Academic Open Form]

Regardless of my chosen subject matter, my poems seem to elicit a kind of preachy tone. This persistent rhythm of the Heroic Couplet is stubborn like my mother’s miniature schnauzer. The dog, which I pet-sat this past weekend, bossed me around on walks and barked at my dog in my own home. Regardless of this little dog’s miniature status, she managed to direct our strolls and Ice Cream, my dog, submitted to her orders. This is like the heroic couplet. I agree with Strand and Boland’s verdicts on the form: “The sharp, end-stop rhymes, the regular stresses, and the pause that happened in the middle of the line all made it perfect for moralizing, warning, satirizing and poking fun at another’s expense” (122).

The heroic couplet depicts the authority of rigid structure, particularly in the matter of closed couplets. Finch and Varnes elaborate, “Because of its concentration, the closed couplet is capable of both epigrammatic brilliance,…and forceful moral analysis” (109). This astute notion is overtly an innocent description, yet it carries with it a profound recognition of power tactic and ethical imposition. This can evolve into a metaphor for the dominance produced by structure. While this is merely a discussion of poetry, I can’t help but notice my feathers ruffle. As a person that survives with an atypical lifestyle, I perhaps shudder at extreme organization. I fear the influence of the closed couplet’s contriving sounds. Once, in class, you mentioned how the concept of truism accompanies catchy phrases (regardless of actual truth). This is partly why dread the closed couplet’s mechanical, memorable components. The closed couplet does exactly as it’s called: it closes. It closes the mind with each movement to seal itself up, to stop the flow of progression or advancement. Finch and Varnes admit, “However, the limitations of the closed couplet are nearly as great as its strengths. Its modulatory range is fairly narrow, and in it the part sometimes undermines the whole. So far as each couplet stands on its own, argument slows, and logical narrative progression flags” (110).

To steer away from my closed couplet fears, I utilized Browning as my prototype. Upon reading his poem, “My Last Duchess,” I found relation to the heroic couplet. I read the poem aloud and noted that the rhyme scheme did not sound as automated as in other heroic couplet formed poems. This stems from the various enjambments in the poem. Finch and Varnes describe, “Though Browning’s enjambments may initially appear haphazard, he carefully correlates them with meaning” (111). This example of the heroic couplet appears to embody the form triumphantly; so much so, that Strand and Boland bother to use the poem for their section entitled, Close-Up of the Heroic Couplet (135). In addition to the poem’s sounds, I found the content surprisingly and pleasingly disobedient. Strand and Boland explain:

In an age when Romanticism was still the dominant poetic influence, he soon struck out on his own and began exploring the distinctive tones of estrangement and rebellion… “My Last Duchess” is this sort of monologue. It canvasses the odd tone and misfit emotional address of a nobleman, thinking aloud about possession, art, power, and marriage— and plainly unable to distinguish one from another. (135)

As an experienced master of unruly behavior and language, it’s no wonder I would consider Browning’s techniques applicable to my own work.

Enforced to operate the heroic couplet this week, I felt inept and awkward, undoubtedly from my lack of heroic couplet experience. I attempted to remain loyal to Browning, but at times and to my disliking, a few closed couplets surfaced. In addition to my clumsy word play and word choice, my rhymes feel/sound so overt! I am enthused by the process of mastering such a classic poetic system, but I am also dismayed by the products I attained. “What is this monster?” I think. My heroic couplets emerge from my poetic depths as Frankensteins of traditional form and untraditional graphic content. Eek.


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