Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Elegiac Couplet

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English Literature

Elegiac couplets are an important form of poetry that can be found throughout history. Roman elegiac poetry has had an integral influence on how couplets are used in English literature. Throughout English literature, there are multiple examples of elegiac couplets, which show their influence on the form.

Elegiac couplet: meaning

Elegiac couplets are a form of poetry that was popular in ancient Greece and Rome. It consists of two lines of poetry, where the first line is written in a dactylic hexameter, and the second line is written in a dactylic pentameter. But dont panic. Both these meters will be explained below.

Greek elegiac couplets

The elegiac couplet, which is one of the oldest forms of poetry, originated in Greece. It was originally used for funeral songs. However, during the 7th century BC, it became popular to write erotic (or love) poems in elegiac couplets. As the form became more popular, it was used to discuss many themes, including politics, war, social change, and philosophy. Many key Greek elegiac couplets were written by the Alexandrine School, which is the culture of literature, medicine, and philosophy that occurred during the Hellenistic period (32331 BC).

Catullus and Roman elegiac poetry

The importance of the elegiac couplet in Greece carried over into Italian literature, as the form was used by many key figures in the Roman Empire. One of these was Catullus, a Roman poet who wrote many poems using elegiac couplets. These couplets were also frequently used by Ovid, whose work Amores (16 BC) was written entirely in elegiac couplets.

English elegiac couplets

The elegiac couplet entered English Literature during the medieval period when Latin works were being translated into English. Poets such as John Milton also wrote elegiac sonnets throughout their lives.

Example of elegiac couplets

Many examples of elegiac sonnets can be found in ancient Greek and Roman literature. They include Virgils The Aeneid (16 BC) and Ovids Amores (17 BC).

Features of elegiac couplets

Defining features of elegiac couplets include the number of lines, the meter, and the rhyme scheme used.

Number of lines

A key trait of the elegiac couplet is that it consists of two lines that are sequential (they come after one another). These couplets can occur within larger poems, but they will still be linked together. Look at the example below and try to count the number of elegiac couplets you see.

Ovid, Amores: Book 1 Elegy 1 The Theme of Love (16 BC)

Just now, I was preparing to start with heavy fighting

and violent war, with a measure to fit the matter.

Good enough for lesser verse laughed Cupid

so they say, and stole a foot away.

In this extract, there are two elegiac couplets. Lines 1 and 2 constitute the first, while lines 3 and 4 create the second.

Meter

The most noticeable feature of the elegiac couplet is its distinct meter. There are two different meters used in elegiac couplets. The first line uses the dactylic hexameter, while the second line uses the dactylic pentameter.

Dactylic hexameter

Dactylic hexameter was a popular meter in ancient Greece that was used for epic poetry. A line written in a dactylic hexameter consists of six metrical feet (hexa meaning six). In each foot, there is one long syllable (-) followed by two short syllables (UU). This is called a dactyl (- UU). The first five metrical feet will be dactyls, and the sixth foot is an anceps, which will be either two long syllables (called a spondee) (- -) or a long and short syllable (- U). Lines written in a dactylic hexameter will follow the following pattern:

- UU / - UU / - UU / - UU / - UU / - U

This is more noticeable in the original Latin verse of Ovids Amores, which reads as:

Ar m a gr a vī num er ō vio len ta que bel la parā bam

- U U / - U U / - U U / - U U / - U U / - U

In English, this translates as:

Ju st now, I wa s pre par ing to sta rt with hea vy fight ing

- U U / - U U / - U U / - U U / - U U / - U

Dactylic pentameter

The second line of an elegiac couplet is written in dactylic pentameter, which is similar to the dactylic hexameter. A line of dactylic pentameter is divided into two and follows the pattern of two dactyls and a spondee. Spondees are broken into two parts. The first part, which follows the first two dactyls, is then repeated in the second part. Lines written in dactylic pentameter look like the following:

- UU / - UU / - | | - UU / - UU / -

Again, this is more noticeable in the original Latin verse of Ovids Amores, which reads as:

ēd er e, māt er iā con ve ni en te mo d īs.

- U U / - U U / - | - U U / - U U / -

In English, it translates as:

and violent war, with a measure to fit the matter.

Rhyme scheme

There is no set rhyme scheme for elegiac couplets, meaning that the poet can use a rhyme scheme if they wish but can also leave out rhyming completely.

Open vs closed elegiac couplets

There are both open and closed elegiac couplets.

Open elegiac couplets

Open couplets are those where the first line flows into the second line.

Good enough for lesser verse laughed Cupid

so they say, and stole a foot away.

The first line of this couplet (from Amores: Book I) has no punctuation, leaving the sentence open to flow into the next line, where it finishes with a full stop.

Closed elegiac couplets

Many elegiac couplets are written as closed couplets, in which each line of the couplet is written as an individual sentence.

‘Cruel boy, who gave you power over this song?

Poets are the Muses’, we’re not in your crowd.

Each line ends with a piece of punctuation, meaning that the sentence has ended (closing it off).

The differences between elegiac couplets and heroic couplets

FeatureHeroic coupletElegiac couplet
Line number22
First line meterIambic pentameterDactylic hexameter
Second line meterIambic pentameterDactylic pentameter
Rhyme schemeMasculine paired rhyme (AA) No rhyme scheme

Elegiac Couplet - Key takeaways

  • Elegiac couplets were created in ancient Greece.
  • They became popular in Rome through the works of Catullus and Ovid.
  • The first line of an elegiac couplet is written in a dactylic hexameter.
  • The second line of an elegiac couplet is written in a dactylic pentameter.
  • There are two lines in an elegiac couplet.
  • Elegiac couplets can be open or closed couplets.

Elegiac Couplet

In poetry, ‘elegiac’ refers to elegiac couplets. This is a form of poetry where the first line of the couplet is written in dactylic hexameter, and the second is written in dactylic pentameter.

To write an elegiac couplet, the first line of your couplet must be written in dactylic hexameter, while your second line must be written in dactylic pentameter.

‘Elegiac’ is an adjective, so it can be used in the following way: ‘This is an elegiac couplet’.

An example of an elegiac couplet can be found in Ovid’s ‘Amores’, for instance:


‘Just now, I was preparing to start with heavy fighting 

and violent war, with a measure to fit the matter.’

Final Elegiac Couplet Quiz

Question

Where were elegiac couplets created?

Show answer

Answer

Greece

Show question

Question

In approximately what century was elegiac couplets first used in love poems?

Show answer

Answer

7th BC

Show question

Question

What school of thought was important to the development of the elegiac couplet?

Show answer

Answer

The Alexandrine school was important to the development of the elegiac couplet. 

Show question

Question

Many Greek elegiac couplets were transferred into which classical language?

Show answer

Answer

Latin

Show question

Question

True or False - Lines in elegiac couplets are sequential. 

Show answer

Answer

True! Lines in elegiac couplets are sequential. 

Show question

Question

How many lines are in an elegiac couplet?

Show answer

Answer

2

Show question

Question

Can elegiac couplets occur as a part of larger stanzas?

Show answer

Answer

Yes! Elegiac couplets can occur as a part of larger stanzas 

Show question

Question

True or False - Elegiac couplets are written in iambic pentameter.

Show answer

Answer

True! Elegiac couplets are written in iambic pentameter. 

Show question

Question

What meter is used in the first line of an elegiac couplet?

Show answer

Answer

The meter dactylic hexameter is used in the first line of an elegiac couplet.

Show question

Question

How many metrical feet are in a line of dactylic hexameter

Show answer

Answer

6

Show question

Question

What is dactyl?

Show answer

Answer

A dactyl occurs when there is one long syllable and two short syllables in a metrical foot. 

Show question

Question

What is a spondee?

Show answer

Answer

A spondee occurs when there are two long syllables in a metrical foot. 

Show question

Question

What meter is the second line of an elegiac couplet written in?

Show answer

Answer

The second line of an elegiac couplet is written in the meter, dactylic pentameter. 

Show question

Question

How many metrical feet are in a line written in a dactylic pentameter?

Show answer

Answer

5

Show question

Question

True or False - There has to be a rhyme in an elegiac couplet.

Show answer

Answer

False! There does not have to be a rhyme in an elegiac couplet. 

Show question

Question

Are all elegiac couplets written as closed couplets?

Show answer

Answer

Yes! All elegiac couplets are written as closed couplets. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Elegiac Couplet quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.