Free verse

Free verse is a term describing various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole. [Cooper Burns, "op. cit."]


Philip Hobsbaum identifies three major types of free verse:
# Free iambic verse which is an extension of the work of the Jacobean dramatists. Practitioners of this sort of free verse include: T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and W. H. Auden.
# Cadenced verse in the manner of Walt Whitman
# Free verse proper, where the discrepancies and variations of meter are centre stage

Cadenced verse is today based on rhythmical phrases that are more irregular than those of traditional poetic meter. When it is used, it tends to follow a looser pattern than would be expected in formal verse. Free verse does away with the structuring devices of regular meter and rhyme schemes; other traditional elements of expression, such as diction and syntax may still be prominent.


An early usage of the term appears in 1915 in the anonymous preface to the first Imagist anthology. The main author of this preface was Richard Aldington. The preface states: "We do not insist upon 'free-verse' as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty."

The ideal of the early practitioners of free verse was well described by Ezra Pound, who wrote: "As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." [Pound, Ezra. "A Retrospect," "Pavannes and Divisions" Knopf, 1918, p. 95] D. H. Lawrence wrote that Whitman "pruned away his clichés — perhaps his clichés of rhythm as well as of phrase" and that all one could do with free verse was "get rid of the stereotyped movements and the old hackneyed associations of sound and sense". [D. H. Lawrence, from introduction to "New Poems"]

Some poets have explained that free verse, despite its freedom, must still display some elements of form. Pound's friend T. S. Eliot wrote: "No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job." [in the essay "The Music of Poetry" 1942] 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." [Donald Hall, in the essay 'Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird' in the book of the same title. 1978. ISBN 0-472-40000-2.]

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 name "vers libre" suggests, this technique of using more irregular cadences is often said to derive from the practices of 19th century French poets such as Gustave Kahn and Jules Laforgue. 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. 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.

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' could be counted early examples of free verse. [see note 25 on page LX of "The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse" Penguin Classics, 1999. ISBN 0-14-044578-1]

In France, free verse was occasionally used by symbolist Arthur Rimbaud. 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"] [ [ De waterlelie < Frederik van Eeden <4umi word ] ] ). 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.Fact|date=August 2008


*G. Burns Cooper, "," Stanford University Press, 1998
*Charles O. Hartman, "," Northwestern University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8101-1316-3
*Philip Hobsbaum, "Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form"
*H. T. Kirby-Smith, "The Origins of Free Verse," University of Michigan, 1996. ISBN 0-472-08565-4.
*Timothy Steele, "", University of Arkansas Press, 1990.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • free verse — free versifier /free verr seuh fuy euhr/, n. Prosody. verse that does not follow a fixed metrical pattern. [1905 10] * * * Poetry organized according to the cadences of speech and image patterns rather than according to a regular metrical scheme …   Universalium

  • free verse — n [U] poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not ↑rhyme →↑blank verse …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • free verse — free′ verse′ n. pro verse with no fixed metrical pattern • Etymology: 1905–10 …   From formal English to slang

  • free verse — noun uncount a type of poetry that does not have a regular RHYTHM or RHYME …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • free verse — 1908; see VERS LIBRE (Cf. vers libre) …   Etymology dictionary

  • free verse — ► NOUN ▪ poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular rhythm …   English terms dictionary

  • free verse — n. poetry without regular meter, rhyme, or stanzaic forms …   English World dictionary

  • free verse — noun unrhymed verse without a consistent metrical pattern • Syn: ↑vers libre • Hypernyms: ↑poem, ↑verse form * * * noun Etymology: translation of French vers libre : verse whose meter is irregular in some respect or who …   Useful english dictionary

  • FREE VERSE —    Japanese poetry has historically been governed by metric considerations based upon the tanka tradition. Free verse does away with the strict metrical structure of tanka, lending itself to the use of colloquial grammar and vocabulary. When… …   Japanese literature and theater

  • free verse — noun A poetic form divided into lines of no particular length or meter, without a rhyme scheme. Whitman uses free verse to achieve effects impossible under even the broad restrictions of blank verse …   Wiktionary

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