About Poetry
Poetry • Outline • Explication

Theme • Plot • Style
Character • Setting • Voice
Writer • Writer's block

Poetic diction

Imagery • Figures of speech
Metaphor • Simile
Homeric simile
Personification • Pathetic fallacy
Synecdoche  • Metonymy
Conceit • Extended metaphor
Allegory • Motif • Symbol
Pun • Double entendre
Ambiguity • Idiom


Alliteration • Assonance
Consonance • Rhyme
Repetition • Refrain


Line • Enjambment • Caesura
Foot • Meter • Verse • Stanza

Verse forms

Epic • Narrative • Lyric • Ode
Dramatic monologue • Ballad
Blank verse • Heroic couplets
Sestina • Sonnet • Villanelle
List of poetic forms

Modern poetry

Free verse • Prose poetry
Haiku in English • Tanka

Much, much more ...

Collaborative poetry
Glossary of poetry terms
How to - topics


This box: view · talk · edit

About Literature

Literature • Outline • History
Writer • Author • Poet

Major types

Verse • Prose
Poem • Play • Novel
Short story • Novella


Epic • Lyric • Drama
Romance • Satire
Tragedy • Comedy


Theme • Plot • Style
Character • Setting • Voice


Performance • Plays
Books • Magazines

History and lists

Outline of literature
Index of terms
History • Modern history
List of years in literature
Books • Writers •
Literary movements
Poetry movements
Literary awards • Poetry awards


Reviews • Criticism • Theory
List of literary critics

Much, much more ...

Glossary of literary terms
Glossary of poetry terms
How to - topics

This box: view · talk · edit

by George J. Dance

A verse is formally a line of poetry written in meter . However, the word has come to mean poetry in general (or sometimes even non-poetry) written in lines of a regular metrical pattern.


Verse (verse), n. [OE. vers, AS. fers, L. versus a line in writing, and, in poetry, a verse, from vertere, versum, to turn, to turn round; akin to E. worth, to become: cf. F. vers. See Worth to become, and cf.]

  1. A line consisting of a certain number of metrical feet (see Foot , n., 9) disposed according to metrical rules. "Verses are of various kinds, as hexameter, pentameter, tetrameter, etc., according to the number of feet in each. A verse of twelve syllables is called an Alexandrine. Two or more verses form a stanza or strophe."
  2. Metrical arrangement and language; that which is composed in metrical form; versification; poetry. "'Such prompt eloquence / Flowed from their lips in prose or numerous verse. Milton." "Virtue was taught in verse. Prior. "Verse embalms virtue. Donne".
  3. A short division of any composition.
  4. A piece of poetry. "This verse be thine. Pope."
  5. Blank verse , poetry in which the lines do not end in rhymes.
  6. Heroic verse. See under Heroic .[1]

Poetry and verseEdit

Though "poetry" and "verse" can be (and often are) used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. For instance, the word "verse" (rather than "poetry") is commonly used to distinguish writing from prose. Where the common unit of prose is purely grammatical, such as a sentence or paragraph, the unit of verse is the metrical line.[2]

Poetry, on the other hand, can be written in prose. Prose poetry is text written in prose but generally recognized as poetry. It is generally recognized, then, that poetry is not just verse; that there is some poetry that is not verse.

In the same way, verse is not just poery; there is verse that is not poetry. Paradigm non-poetry verses would be those composed strictly as memory aids, such as this one:

"I" before "E"
Except after"C"
Or when sounded as "A"
As in "neighbour" and "weigh".

Other types of verse that look different from poetry include light verse, such as limericks; some (not all) song lyrics; the comic rhymes of Robert W. Service, Banjo Paterson, or Franklin P. Adams; and the equally unfashionable didactic verse of Edgar Guest.

It has often been charged of popular writers of verse, like Service and Rudyard Kipling, that what they write is in no way poetry. In his introduction to his Choice of Kipling's Verse (1941), T.S. Eliot complained that "most studies of Kipling ... have evaded the question – which is, nevertheless, a question which everyone asks – whether Kipling's verse really is poetry."[3]

For Service, there was no question whether his verse was poetry or not: it was not, and had never been meant to be. "Verse, not poetry, is what I was after ... something the man in the street would take notice of and the sweet old lady would paste in her album; something the schoolboy would spout and the fellow in the pub would quote. Yet I never wrote to please anyone but myself; it just happened. I belonged to the simple folks whom I liked to please."[4]

Here verse is being seen as the opposite of poetry, "not poetry." Yet what Service means by 'verse', and what Eliot means by Kipling's 'verse', is no different from what anyone else means by it.

Why, then, do so many people confuse or conflate verse and poetry? Probably because, historically (in the Western canon), poetry was verse.

From the emergence of Middle English, until the early 20th century, with scattered exceptions, poetry in English was written in verse. The most famous exception was the poetry in the King James Bible - but the Bible was not considered poetry, and in any case it was a translation of non-Western poems and prose.

The 20th century saw the rise and acceptance of modernist poetry in English, poetry that was written in "free verse ", meaning that it was not written in verse as we've been using the term. Free verse was the dominant form of poetry for most of the 20th century, and still may be today. The decades since the 1980s have seen a renewed interest in poetry written in verse.

Types of verseEdit

In a stressed language like English, lines of verse can be lines of a certain number of syllables (syllabic verse); or lines of a certain number of stressed syllables (accentual verse); or lines of a certain number of both (accentual-syllabic verse).

Accentual verseEdit

Main article: Accentual verse

Accentual verse is a metrical system based only on the number of stressed or accented syllables in a line. In accentual verse the total number of syllables can vary, so long as each line has the prescribed number of accents. Accentual verse was the system used in Germanic-language poetry, including Old English.[5]

Syllabic verseEdit

Main article: Syllabic verse

Syllabic verse, which is based on the total number of syllables in a line, is the predominant system of verse in basically unstressed languages like French. After the Norman Conquest, when French replaced English as the language of the upper class, syllabic poetry began to be learned and written. While it never replaced the accentual verse of English, it was undoubtedly influential in the latter's evolution into the hybrid accentual-syllabic system predominant in Modern English.

Accentual-syllabic verseEdit

Main article: Accentual-syllabic verse

Accentual-syllabic verse, the metrical system most commonly used in English poetry, counts both the number of stresses and the number of syllables, in each line. A line of accentual-syllabic verse is formed of a fixed number of feet, each of which has both one stressed syllable, and the same number of unstressed syllables: meaning that each line has both the same number of syllables and the same number of accents.[6]

For example, the verse form that Geoffrey Chaucer adopted for The Canterbury Tales, iambic pentameter (IP), had lines formed of five feet, each of which consisted of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. With some reasonable variation, iambic pentameter is verse of five stresses and ten syllables.[6]

It is usually if not always accentual-syllabic verse that is referred to by the terms "metered verse" or "metric verse", "formal verse," or simply "verse."

Rhymed verseEdit

Main article: Rhyme In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer introduced another innovation derived from French poetry: the end-rhyme. Every two lines of his IP were linked together by a rhyme at the line end; a verse form later called the heroic couplet. The heroic couplet was a primitive rhyme. But it paved the way for increasingly ornate rhyme schemes later. And in the hands of masters like John Dryden and Alexander Pope, it was shown to be capable of great sophistication.

   Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
   The proper study of Mankind is Man.
   Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
   A being darkly wise, and rudely great[....]
   In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
   Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
   Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
   Whether he thinks too little, or too much[....]
   Sole judge of Truth, in endless error hurl'd:
   The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Alexander Pope, "Essay on Man"

Blank verseEdit

Main article: Blank verse

The tradition of unrhymed verse continued, though. Blank verse – verse having a regular meter, but no end-rhyme – was its new form. Unrhymed iambic pentameter (IP) (the same meter Chaucer had used) proved particularly effective for verse drama. As used by Christopher Marlowe, IP blank verse became the standard for verse drama in Tudor England. Then, in the plays of William Shakespeare, blank verse set a new standard for English poetry in general.

   To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
   Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
   To the last syllable of recorded time;
   And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
   The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
   Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
   That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
   And then is heard no more. It is a tale
   Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
   Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19-28.

Major poets continued to write in IP blank verse in the following centuries: John Milton, William Wordsworth, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Frost, E.J. Pratt, to name a few.

Verse forms and stanzasEdit

Main article: Verse forms

Despite the success of blank verse, poetry became increasingly identified with rhymed verse over the centuries after Chaucer. A new innovation was that of the stanza , a subgroups of lines within a poem with its own rhyme scheme and metrical pattern. In The Faerie Queene (1590-1596), Edmund Spenser introduced a 9-line rhyming stanza, consisting of 8 lines of IP with a concluding Alexandrine, which still bears his name, and which was still being used (by Charles Sangster, for instance) in the 19th century.

Spenser also wrote his own variation of an Italian form, the sonnet – as did Shakespeare, whose sonnets have been as influential as his plays. The sonnet, originally consisting of two different stanza forms (the Italian octave and a sestet) put together, has become the most popular stanza form in English poetry.

More and more intricate stanza forms, with more intricate rhymes and metrical variations, have been tried by English poets over the centuries, many of them from France: the ballade, the triolet, the villanelle, the rondeau and the rondel and the roundel. Other poets constructed unique stanza forms for individual poems, varying meter and rhyme for an almost musical effect. The only fixed rules were that each line rhymed with another, and every stanza had to be the same (ie, the same number of lines, each with the same meter, in the same order, and rhyming the same). "The first half of the seventeenth century was a time of great metric freedom, when poets wrought wonderful melodies through their skilful handling of iambic or trochaic lines of varying length, and through the deft interlacing of their rimes."[7]

Edmund Waller used this stanza in his 1645 'Song' known as "Go, lovely Rose":

      Go, lovely Rose —
  Tell her that wastes her time and me,
      That now she knows,
  When I resemble her to thee,
  How sweet and fair she seems to be.[8]

A more elaborate stanza form from Robert Herrick's "To Daffodils":

  Fair daffodils, we weep to see
     You haste away so soon;
  As yet the early-rising sun
     Has not attain'd his noon.
               Stay, stay
        Until the hasting day
               Has run
        But to the evensong;
  And having prayed together, we
        Will go with you along.[9]

The ode allowed a poet to construct his own stanza form, but then he had the task of producing a major poem using it alone.

Free VerseEdit

Free verse, or open form, is usually defined as lines having no fixed meter or end rhyme. It is questionable whether free verse is verse at all: The fact that it is written in lines makes it verse-like, while the fact that it has no regular meter counts against its being verse.

Certainly some free verse, especially the rhymed variety, looks (and sounds) no different from verse written in the more variable stanzas. Matthew Arnold wrote an early example, "Dover Beach". Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is another example, as is Ezra Pound's "Envoi" to Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (a riff on the Waller verse quoted above):

   GO, dumb-born book,
   Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
   Hadst thou but song
   As thou hast subjects known,
   Then were there cause in thee that should condone
   Even my faults that heavy upon me lie,
   And build her glories their longevity.[10]

(Notice how lines 2, 3-4, 5, and 7 are all examples of iambic pentameter (IP) (and 6 is loose IP). Much of contemporary "free verse" is actually constructed of more or less loose IP.)

On the other hand, there are other genres of free verse (going back at least as far as Walt Whitman) that appear to owe nothing to verse (as the term has been used here).

Take this example, an excerpt from Michael Basinski's "Trailers": it is difficult to see where lines start and end, much discern any metrical pattern or rhyme scheme:

from TrailersEdit


   Nut sinsit swimsuit in a air an pork, pore
   porus Walrus is dread full fall I am, A (polka band quotes:::
                “ice cubes and be˜er boys, booys sharks
                ioce cuobeos incubi (us..suc) a,o,ndo beooer
                that’soew Oall cows w˜e wanot isowl
                ice cuboyes eyes anod vowel beer”
   pell I, pill a, av, ˜○○ ivut if u undead off day
   pight t○ide know½ untied
   what not be can’t ○○

   (a lettuce clot–hed in by in un)
                ○ disrob ○

   Pan Ann
   I ear hair I
   Can ˜ rain
   I ˜
   pana˜ ˜
   ˜…bucky rue boo˜cky be ○○˜aver, aviatoreve
   here’–s t˜he new –Ipana…˜˜
   I pa not (useful toothpaste quote or smile(s)
   Pan of our teeth ontopoVov Votka on top (tap) Big Top
                           “Tops never Stops”
   Cyrano D˜ Bergerac (useful quotes:

   —um ex or ur h,
   amoongl—ue r, s, t, u, v, (˜)
   fr———uit fly, t—o date


Michael Basinski. Licensed CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0.[11]

Verse todayEdit

Even at the height of open form poetry's popularity in the 20th century, there were major poets who wrote in verse. Yeats continued to compose formal verse throughout his entire career. W.H. Auden wrote both free and traditional verse.  Canada's E.J. Pratt quickly moved from his early free verse to epical blank verse .

The most prominent 20th century American poet to write in verse was Robert Frost. There are many others, whom changing fashion or too lengthy copyright has allowed to be forgotten: Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Hillyer.

The New Critics (John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Yvor Winters) were both practicitioners and advocates of formal verse. They inspired others who continued to experiment with formal verse through the 1960s and 1970s, including Anthony Hecht, Howard Nemerov, and Richard Wilbur.[12]

The late 20th century saw the birth of a literary movement, the New Formalism, explicitly advocating a return to traditional metered and rhymed verse. Prominent New Formalists include Dana Gioia, Marilyn Hacker, Phillip Levin, Molly Peacock, and Timothy Steele.[12]

Poets and editors Mark Jarman and David Mason wrote in the preface to their 1996 anthology, Rebel Angels: 25 poets of the new formalism: "It is no surprise that the most significant development in recent American poetry has been a resurgence of meter and rhyme, as well as narrative, among large numbers of young poets, after a period when these essential elements of verse had been suppressed."[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. "Verse", Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913,, Web, July 5, 2011.
  2. "Verse", "Types-Of-Poetry", Screen 1
  3. T.S. Eliot, "Rudyard Kipling," A Choice of Kipling's Verse, (London: Faber & Faber, 1973), 6. Print.
  4. "1905 R.W. Service: Bard of the Yukon", Whitehorse Star online archive, September 11, 2008.
  5. "Accentual verse," Encyclopædia Britannica,, Web, June 18, 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Accentual-Syllabic Verse," Encyclopaedia Britannica,, Web, June 19, 2011.
  7. "Cavalier Lyrics: Hesperides ," Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol VII, Web,, July 9, 2011.
  8. Edmund Waller, "Go Lovely Rose," The Oxford Book of English Verse (1250-1900) (Oxford: Clarenden, 1919),, Web, June 24, 2011.
  9. Robert Herrick,"To Daffodils," The Penny Blog,, Web, June 24, 2011.
  10. Ezra Pound, "Envoi",, Web, June 24, 2011.
  11. Michael Basinski, "Trailers," RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, Volume 4 (2010). [Copyright: RECONFIGURATIONS publishes under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License - Some rights reserved]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "A Brief Guide to New Formalism," Academy of American Poets,, Web, June 24, 2011.

External linksEdit

This page uses content from Wikinfo . The original article was at Wikinfo:Verse.
The list of authors can be seen in the (view authors). page history. The text of this Wikinfo article is available under the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
This is a signed article by User:George Dance. It may be edited for spelling errors or typos, but not for substantive content except by its author. If you have created a user name and verified your identity, provided you have set forth your credentials on your user page, you can add comments to the bottom of this article as peer review.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.