Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tight-Rhymed Fourteener Couplet (poetry)

This old English poetic form is my latest obsession - and I've added my own signature twist to it--I call it the RGB rhyme scheme (Red, Green, Blue):

If you look closely at the subtitle (epigraph) for this blog (up at the top in the title bar), you'll note that it is a poem of the form:

You start with RED, his rhythm FED by gliding into GREEN;

And now sweet BLUE, her meter TRUE, completes the pure FOURTEEN.

As the exampe suggests, the basic style is called a Fourteener (this is a link to the Wikipedia article).  It has a meter scheme called Iambic Heptameter--two lines of seven stressed syllables each, thus fourteen stressed syllables in all.  I call the two lines together a couplet because the cohesion is provided by two rhyming words at the end of the two lines (Green and Fourteen) in the example above.

(There's even a more tightly rhymed alternative, which I'll propose here for completeness:

You start with RED then march AHEAD to see what's SAID by GREEN;

Then switch to BLUE and let line TWO complete the TRUE fourTEEN.)

The Fourteener rhyming couplet was popular in sixteenth and seventeenth century English poetry.  But its usage back then was much less constrained than the form I have fallen in love with - only rhyming the last word of each line.  The familiar old nursery rhyme provides an example:

Mary had a little lamb.  Its fleece was white as SNOW;
And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to GO.

By contrast, you could rewrite this to form my peculiar tight-rhymed Fourteener thusly:

A little LAMB had Mary, MA'AM. Its fleece was white as SNOW;
And ev'ry PLACE that Mary'd PACE, the lamb was sure to GO.

As you see, this form is more tightly restricted.  And yet I find it fascinating to construct these.  I've done more than a hundred to date.  An extended example appears in my Book Review of Lord of the Rings

Another internally rhymed example that most everyone is familiar with is the old spiritual 'Amazing Grace'.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the SOUND that saved a wretch like ME
I once was lost, but now I'm FOUND was blind, but now I SEE

I like this form also, but to me the more tight rhyming style just seems to resonate better as a true Fourteener. (Amazing Grace might be considered a four line 4-3-4-3 format with alternate rhyme scheme rather than a Fourteener couplet.)

So, since about the first of the year, I've been developing skill at writing my 'signature' RGB (Red, Green, Blue) format.  For my ongoing 'magnum opus' novel project, 'Eden's Womb' (click this link for a free look at the novel) I've chosen to begin every chapter with a Tight-Rhymed Fourteener Couplet epigraph. Here's a bonus four-couplet epigraph not in the book followed by some examples of chapter epigraph couplets.  Enjoy.


Since primal dawn I've conjured spawn, and into Chaos hurled.
Now fly at need, my living seed--approach yon hapless world.

Descend from height by dark of night; invade their misted skies.
There make from cloud an icy shroud--a clever snowflake guise.

Thy prisms train, my devious grain; enslave the witless sun.
To scour the land with beacon's hand--and seize their Chosen One.

He dwells, 'tis said, where glaciers spread - "For lo!" the prophet cries,
"From icebound womb, ere crack of doom, our final King must rise."

Examples of chapter epigraphs:

Beneath the ice, like winter mice, the careworn Gleaners toil
To slowly chip from glacier’s grip the fruits of once-warm soil.


To river Sprite, to squandered sight, I rise with desp’rate ode.
A mercy grant, ere Heavens rant—pray ease my awful load!


Nine branches hath the Shepherd’s path. You cannot scout them all.
Retreat to peace … accept release!  Each road fulfills thy Call.


From shore to shore, our Buddha bore his people’s urgent dream.
Yet dukkha claims all mortal gains.  Nirvana is the stream.


The Rotted Lands raise ghostly hands to guard their secret spawn.
Dare trespass here, you’ll flee in fear … or die before the dawn.


Her trifling verse—a toxic curse—escaped and plays its card.
When tamper’d bit trumps Dealer’s writ the final trick comes hard.


To stand and stare, or choose to share thy precious living wine:
Two voices stilled? One dream fulfilled? The vital choice is thine.


Man’s god, God’s man—the early plan: A kingdom and its Lord.
But later tastes would soon replace a monarch with a board.

Plague four of sev’n: lift eyes to Heav’n where mind and faith compete.
Should faith prevail the further trail shall spread before thy feet.

Where reason fails trust ancient tales to yield a path to light.
Let truth unfold from words of old: hope spring from darkest night.

‘Step forth’, they taunt, ‘accept the gauntlet laid before thy feet.
The last gate’s key, thy destiny—at DunCanon shall meet.’ 

The sickle’s blade—of pure light made—Heav’n’s sharpest cutting brand
Cannot surpass one blade of grass deprived of human hand.
Those desp’rate hours—while doubt devours—evince the greater goal.
Blind Chaos bends to Spirits’ ends when pray’r directs the soul.

O beast of pow’r, now comes the hour: a balm applied today
Relieves thy pain in hope to gain a favor down the way.

By gloom of night a new-come fright disturbs the rancid air.
An omen charm rings clear alarm: ye company beware.

MRS. WYCHERLEY’S CAT (in honor of Alexander Pope)
Her husband dead, I watched her wed that money-grubbing rake.
Sev’n years in Fleet his fate would meet; and not a penny take.

An ancient norm sustains its form within this Rotted Land:
Ere balance chose, crude science froze, usurping Nature’s Hand.

In realms unseen a Fungid queen records her firm command:
“This consort-clone, ‘til now unknown, dies only by my hand.”

By quantum bits her Voice emits a message faint and thin.
What strength denies, the frail espies: a pow’r from deep within.

From random drift a current swift; from Chaos comes a plan:
Thus Naja rose; and from her flows the Noble Course for man.

A child, thirteen, confronts a queen ‘til truth stands undenied:
‘Your sacred phrase, from ancient days, is Adam’s constant guide.’

Awake, stout soul!  Assume the role that Naja's plan portends:
Thy knowledge grows, Her guidance flows, Sustains, Impels, Transcends.

‘Twixt land and sky her peak lifts high: commanding all the realm.
Through countless years no man came near ‘til Lissa took the helm.

Endure your pain for greater gain: our quest—our hallowed goal.
Leave doubt behind and steel your mind: to DunCanon we roll.


  1. PJ, I am a poet of sorts on the site AllPoetry, going there by the name of Corrideo. I have been playing with the tight rhyme in fourteener sonnets since I discovered it here. I am going to introduce it as a contest option in April. I certainly give you credit...unless you would like to log on, and do so yourself.

    1. Hi Corrideo - I'm flattered and delighted that you've picked up on this rhyme scheme. It's a challenge, and lots of fun, isn't it! I'll be checking AllPoetry from time to time, and if I see the contest posted, I'll try to respond, though I'm pre-occupied at the moment with my hiking adventure (Appalachian Trail). Best wishes in your writing pursuits, and thanks for the comment.