Can You Say It in Just Two Lines?

Blake Manuscript
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?

[Broken] [Shine] Copyright 2017 by Brian Dean Powers
Public Domain photo at

15 thoughts on “Can You Say It in Just Two Lines?

  1. Hi, Brian;
    Happy to see a post of yours 🙂
    Fair warning, I know absolutely nothing about poetry …but to answer your question (and to reveal my own ignorance) :
    1. The titles didn’t make a difference to me, I skipped right over them 🙂
    2. Couplets, HARD to do and no, if they are done right we don’t need more.
    3. Love that second line of yours. With 8 words you splashed an image across my mind. Nice 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was a little concerned that such a long post would get no response, so thank you for yours! I wanted the first line and the second line of my poem to be separate: I’m not grateful someone broke my window so I could see that light shining. I just observed the two visuals, one broken and one brilliant.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yours is in just as good company with the others Brian. I like things which are small and perfectly formed ! Funnily enough I rather like the idea of a long title and short poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve been away from my Word Press playground too much lately. What a wonderful post! Well, as for titles, maybe a couple doesn’t need one, but if it has one, like with any poem, it should somehow enhance the piece. Otherwise, we might as well just give it a number, right? A catalog marker.

    I like each of the couplets you selected, each for its own reason. And now you have me wondering if the two-liner has not become sort of the American Haiku. What I like about yours is not that it sums everything up, but that it expands the image of a broken window into all sorts of implication about light and brokenness.

    Well done, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s