There were many great works of art in which to select to write a poem on as I am sure it was equally difficult for Restoration poets whom wrote critique style poems on another writer. I selected to write my rhyming couplet poem on A Satire on Charles II by John Wilmot Earl of Rochester because the style of the piece was unique and bold not afraid to use strong words to drive home the theme. I found that Wilmot used comedic elements and wit to speak harshly regarding the King which he extremely disagreed with the King’s actions and behavior. Within my poem I argue that it’s better to write in a comedic tone rather than an angry rant if you want your theme to be taken seriously, as no one wants to take angry rants serious even if the theme and message are true. I feel John Wilmot knew this which is why he wrote his piece full of comedic lines for the readers to comprehend the message within it and not dismiss it. It also alleviated the sting for the individual which the piece was written, this was especially important since the subject matter was the King and a non-comedic poem might have changed the reception of it and if Wilmot continued to enjoy life or not. The poem On Mr Milton’s Paradise Lost by Andrew Marvell I used as an inspiration for structure of my poem and how a great poem written on another excellent poem should be written. While Marvell inspired me for structure, my word choice and tone was inspired by Wilmot. I attempted to use a similar comedic tone and even use a few select vulgar style word choices as he did in his piece.
I chose to write my poem in closed rhyming couplets in order to keep each couplet its own bold statement. Then each closed couplet builds on one another towards the overall theme and message of my piece. According to the article “Rhyming Couplets and Blank Verse” by Richard Bradford John Dryden also favored the closed couplet: “But that benefit which I consider most in it, because I have not seldom found it, is, that it bounds and circumscribes the fancy. For imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that like a high ranging spaniel it must have clogs tied to it” (Bradford 342). While writing my poem I believe those words spoken by Dryden to be completely true in that the closed couplet forces the poet to organize their thoughts rather than ramble without a purpose. I feel that if I wrote my poem in free verse or blank verse then I would have let my thoughts run wild as Dryden stated turning the piece from an art form into a jumbled rant. While writing I felt I was able to focus my ideas and make each closed rhyming couplet a bold statement within itself while still being connected to the other couplets and flowed from one to the next. In the Bradford Dryden speaks further on how the closed couplet makes the ideas clear to the reader: “verse must formally establish its status as a discourse separate from all others by signaling the presence of the line; and that the defining, formal constituents of poetry should be deployed as a means of organizing, even clarifying, sense rather than complicating it” (Bradford 342). I felt the same way while writing my poem that the closed couplet gave me the power to organize my thoughts to support my message so that the reader could easily understand the point, I was attempting to make without it being lost. Pope in Bradford’s article agrees with my findings regarding the couplet and theme: “It appears to be demonstrable the case that Pope uses the couplet to create an ever-broading thematic spiral, with each one variously extending, qualifying, or illustrating a point previously established” (Bradford 344). I realized while writing the poem that each couplet is its own self-contained sentence and statement but all couplets in the entire piece build and connect to one another to support the overall theme of the poem.
During writing my rhyming couplet poem on John Wilmot’s poem I discovered the flexibility and range of topics that the couplet allows you to write your poem on is endless. The couplet removes any limitations the poet has when it comes to topic selection. I found that the structure and language of the couplet is what allows such a vast array of topics. Both keep the poet focused on the theme that they are writing about which in turn allows the reader to comprehend a variety of themes. Richard Bradford agrees with my view on topic selection in his article: “Verse could directly engage with contemporary political issues or, in the more discursive, Georgia mode, could address a virtually unlimited range of subjects: thus architecture, dress sense, the sanitary conditions of the streets and the practical conventions of sheep husbandry all vied for the poet’s attention” (Bradford 345). The couplet opened a freedom of topics for the poet, because they knew that the structure would allow their theme to be understood. I found that I was confident arguing my complex theme within my poem due to the rhyming couplet and if it was not a couplet such a thematically topic would not have been possible. I also found that the structure and language were the main reasons behind it. The structure allowed me to write precise statements supporting my main topic. While the rhyming aspect of each couplet enabled me to apply emphasis on certain key words that were important in each rhymed couplet and to my overall theme. I believe the couplet is the reason John Wilmot was able to write a poem like A Satire on Charles II which spoke negative of the King’s behavior and have it well received by all including Charles II. The structure and rhyming language of the couplet allowed such topics to be written about and thought highly of by all readers.
I found the language aspect to be the most interesting while I was writing my poem. I discovered that writing the entire poem in rhyming couplets forces the poet to utilize a specific type of language throughout the piece. The language is always clear and to the point without any unnecessary words. The Bradford article explains it in a way that the couplet creates a transparency in that the theme and message within it are easily understood: “It became like a subsidiary to rhetoric, enabling the poet to write in a way that gave due attention to the progressive, transparent logic of good prose” (Bradford 345). I found that statement to be true while I was writing my poem because each couplet had to be its own logical sentence that could be understood by itself while still connecting to the other couplets within the poem and supporting the overall theme. I decided that writing in clear words and language was the best method in achieving a complete understandable couplet, something that blank verse could not accomplish. I feel the language within blank verse such as Paradise Lost tends to lead the poet to write in a more complex language thus mudding the clarity of the theme to be fully understood for what the poet intended it to be. There are critics in favor of blank verse mentioned in Bradford’s article expressing that blank verse can be used for more epic tales showing more emotion by using the last word and the staring word of the next line to create this emotional shock: “Webb was suggesting that the unpredictable relationship between the lines and syntax in blank verse was the ideal formal counterpart to the equally contingent affinities between nature, perception, and emotion” (Bradford 353). In writing my poem I felt that the couplet was true poetry and allowed me to use precise language to make my argumentative statement. With each couplet rhyming I was able to argue my point and at the same time feel like the reader knew exactly what I wanted them to know. Having to rhyme and use couplets the language was poetic and art while making my argument very persuasive. I used each couplet to build on one another to support my claim making a persuasive argument while at the same time comedic and fun never seeming like a rant. I discovered the rhyming couplet to be a very effective poetic structure when needing to make an argument or be persuasive. It forces you to focus your thoughts into couplets that make many complete arguments that support the overall argument of the poem. In addition to that aspect the rhyming of the couplets enabled me to make my statements bold and rememberable within the poem. I used the rhyming to bring emphasis to important parts of the poem while retaining a clear understandable language for the reader. I feel at the end of my poem the rhyming couplet was the perfect method to argue an important part to the reader in that everything said was clear and at the same time poetic fun. After reading the Bradford article I realized that Dryden and other poets arrived at the conclusion: “Correct blank verse observes the conventions of the iambic pentameter, but it does not rhyme; and Dryden and the vast majority of his contemporaries believed that rhyme was the only device by which accentual, rather than classical, quantitative, verse could be signal the presence of the poetic line” (Bradford 347). After writing my poem I would completely agree that I felt like I created poetic art while at the same time making a valid persuasive argument, which I do not feel would have been accomplished using blank verse.
Throughout the process of writing my poem on John Wilmot’s A Satire on Charles II I discovered all the mentioned aspects regarding the rhyming couplet make it a very powerful form of poetry. Most notable the couplet provides the poet the structure to write clear precise language and the ability to have persuasive arguments understood by the reader while maintaining a poetic art form. While writing I felt that rhyming and the couplet structure were key elements to the powerful form at my fingers. Both enabled me to make a clear persuasive argument regarding John Wilmot’s poem that I was confident in the theme and main ideas would not be lost to the reader. I feel that if I wouldn’t have written the poem in the couplet format but instead wrote it using blank verse then my language would have shifted to a more complex variety thus confusing the reader on my argument. My observations throughout the process of writing the poem is that the couplet allowed me to focus my ideas and not get off track from the topic while at the same instance be an entertaining poetic piece of art. Thus, the power to entertain the audience while having them understand the message and theme, I believe was a major reason for the popularity of the rhyming couplet among great poets such as Dryden. While writing a poem using couplets you cannot help but feel you are expressing your message while staying true to the poetic art while the blank verse might seem less structured and easier to use, I feel it loses the true feel of the poem.
Bradford, Richard. “Rhyming Couplets and Blank Verse”. A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry, edited by Christine Gerrard, 2006, pp. 341-54.
Wilmot, John. “A Satire on Charles II”. Restoration Literature An Anthology, edited by Paul Hammond, 2002, pp. 38-9.