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Hudibrastic Verse: From A Poet's Glossary

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Edward Hirsch


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Posted

February 03, 2015

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Poetic Terms/Forms
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Hudibrastic verse: A type of comic narrative poetry, Hudibrastic verse (Hudibrastics) consists of jangling eight-syllable rhyming couplets. It is named after Samuel Butler’s satirical long poem Hudibras (1663–1680), which uses deliberately absurd, iambic tetratmeter couplets to ridicule and attack the Puritans. Here is an example from Canto III:

     He would an elegy compose
     On maggots squeez’d out of his nose;
     In lyric numbers write an ode on
     His mistress, eating a black-pudden;
     And, when imprison’d air escap’d her,
     It puft him with poetic rapture.

Jonathan Swift used the octosyllabic rhyming couplet with greater variety, as in these lines from “Vanbrugh’s House” (1703):

     So, Modern Rhymers strive to blast
     The Poetry of Ages past,
     Which having wisely overthrown,
     They from it’s Ruins build their own.

Swift’s use of Hudibrastics provided a model for contemporaries, such as Oliver Goldsmith (“New Simile, in the Manner of Swift,” 1765) and Alexander Pope (“The Seventh Epistle of the First Book of Horace, Imitated in the Manner of Dr. Swift,” 1739), and pointed the way to the use of modern Hudibrastics, such as W. H. Auden’s 1940 “New Year Letter.” John Barth, who based his novel The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) on a poem in Hudibrastics by Ebenezer Cook (ca. 1672–1732), declared: “The Hudibrastic couplet, like Herpes simplex, is a contagion more easily caught than cured.”


Excerpted from A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch. Copyright © 2014 by Edward Hirsch. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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