Writing in Form: Unrhymed Couplets

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Below is the first poem I ever wrote in couplets aka two-line stanzas. The lines in my poem, “Leda before the Swan,” do not rhyme which means it immediately broke all of the usual couplet rules. Oh well. Couplets are traditionally lines of the same length bearing pairs of successive rhyming lines. According to the Poetry Foundation, “a couplet is ‘closed’ when the lines form a bounded grammatical unit like a sentence. […] The “heroic couplet” is written in iambic pentameter and features prominently in the work of 17th- and 18th-century didactic and satirical poets.”

This poem takes as its inspirational content an (in)famous Greek myth and subverts it by imagining the moments in that historically auspicious before. It won honorable mention in the Members Only category of the Oregon Poetry Association Spring 2007 contest. It was later published in my chapbook, The Hours of Us.

Leda before the Swan

Before his shuddering fall into her arms,
his wings thrusting, their edgy caress,

she saw not the feathers, not the Olympian swagger,
but bathtubs and goat skins, her husband’s nightly pursuit.

Later, she’ll say that’s why she didn’t hear
the whirr, the dizzy miles he soared across the Aegean.

She was singing herself a song and threading
her braid into a coil at the nape of her neck.

She dabbed attar on wrists, weighty with their bangles,
and settled into her afternoon hammock nap.

The public domain image above is a close-up photograph of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s statuette group Leda and the Swan circa 1870.

Nancy Flynn
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