Can You Say It in Just Two Lines?


When I first started writing poetry seriously, it took years to learn how to make longer poems with fully developed ideas. Lately I’ve been interested in the opposite challenge: how much can a poet pack into a couplet?

Here are some examples, some of which you will probably recognize. I’m also posting one of my own.

Richard Wilbur included this work in his collection, Mayflies. Although the poem was published in the 21st century, it’s written in rhyming iambic pentameter.

A Short History Corn planted us; tamed cattle made us tame. Thence hut and citadel and kingdom came.

This example by Mark Doty is from his book, School of the Arts.

Shahid’s Couplet Your old kitchen, dear, on Bleeker: sugar, dates, black tea. Your house, then ours. Anyone’s now. Memory’s furious land.

Walt Whitman put this little poem in the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass.

The Untold Want The untold want by life and land ne’er granted, Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

This famous poem by Ezra Pound was written in 1912.

In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.

This tiny poem with the enormous title appears in Mary Oliver’s Redbird.

Watching a Documentary about Polar Bears Trying to Survive on the Melting Ice Floes That God had a plan, I do not doubt. But what if His plan was, that we would do better?

This is my first attempt at a two-liner.

[Broken] [Shine] I don’t know who broke my bedroom window. Sunlight blazes the long edge of cracked glass.

So what do you think? Do these poems feel satisfying, or do you want more? Is it fair to say this brief form sometimes requires a good title in order to succeed?

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