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Free verse is a form of poetry that does not use any consistent meter, rhyme, or any other recognizeable verse form or pattern.


Some poets argue that free verse, despite its freedom, must still display some elements of form. Most free verse, for example, self-evidently continues to observe a convention of the poetic line in some sense, at least in written representations -- thus making it "verse" not prose, which retains a potential degree of linkage (however nebulous) with traditional Verse forms. Donald Hall goes as far as to say that "the form of free verse is as binding and as liberating as the form of a rondeau."[1] and T.S. Eliot wrote, "No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job."[2] Some poets have considered free verse restrictive in its own way. In 1922 Robert Bridges voiced his reservations in the essay 'Humdrum and Harum-Scarum.' Robert Frost later remarked that writing free verse was like "playing tennis without a net".


As the original name for free verse -- vers libre -- suggests, the technique is often said to be derived from the practices of 19th-century French poets, such as Gustave Kahn, and Jules Laforgue in his Derniers vers of 1890. However, in English the sort of cadencing that we now recognize as a variety of free verse can be traced back at least as far as the King James Bible. By referring to Psalms it is possible to argue that free verse in English first appeared in English in the 1380s, in the John Wycliffe translation of the Psalms and was repeated in different form in most biblical translations ever since. Walt Whitman, who based his verse approach on the Bible, was the major precursor for modern poets writing free verse, though they were reluctant to acknowledge his influence.

One form of free verse was written by Christopher Smart in a long poem called Jubilate Agno, written sometime between 1759 and 1763 but not published until 1939. Many poets of the Victorian era experimented with form. Christina Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, and T.E. Brown all wrote examples of unpatterned rhymed verse. Matthew Arnold's poem Philomela contains some rhyme but is very free. Poems such as W.E. Henley's 'Discharged' (from his In Hospital sequence), and Robert Louis Stevenson's poems 'The Light-Keeper' and 'The Cruel Mistress' can be counted early examples of free verse.[3]

In France, a few pieces in Arthur Rimbaud's prose poem collection Illuminations were arranged in manuscript in lines, rather than prose. In the Netherlands, tachtiger (i.e. member of 1880s generation of innovative poets) Frederik van Eeden employed the form at least once (in his poem Waterlelie ["water lily"][4]). Goethe (particularly in some early poems, such as Prometheus) and Hölderlin used it occasionally, due in part to a misinterpretation of the meter used in Pindar's poetry; in Hölderlin's case, he also continued to write unmetered poems after discovering this error.[5] The German poet Heinrich Heine made an important contribution to the development of free verse with 22 poems, written in two-poem cycles called 'Die Nordsee' (The North Sea) (written 1825-1826).[6] These were first published in 'Buch der Lieder' (Book of Songs) in 1827.

Form and StructureEdit

Although free verse requires no meter, rhyme, or other traditional poetic techniques, a poet can still utilize them to create some sense of structure. A clear example of this can be found in Walt Whitman's poems, where he repeats certain phrases and uses commas to create both a rhythm and structure. Because of a lack of predetermined form, free verse poems have the potential to take truly unique shapes. The poet is given more license to express and, unrestrained by traditional bounds, has more control over the development of the poem. This could allow for a more spontaneous and essentially individualizing factor.

Essays on free verseEdit

See alsoEdit



  1. Donald Hall, in the essay 'Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird' in the book of the same title. 1978. ISBN 0-472-40000-2.
  2. in the essay "The Music of Poetry"Jackson (1 January 1942) ASIN B0032Q49RO
  3. see note 25 on page LX of The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse Penguin Classics, 1999. ISBN 0-14-044578-1
  4. De waterlelie < Frederik van Eeden <4umi word
  5. Michael Hamburger: Foreword in: Robert Marcellus Browning (ed.) : German poetry from 1750 to 1900 (The German library, vol. 39), New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1984, p. XV, ISBN 0-8264-0282-8
  6. [1]

External linksEdit

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