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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Free verse is a form of poetry which refrains from meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern.

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."[1] 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."[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 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 it is possible to argue that free verse in English first appeared 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.[citation needed]

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)[1]. These were first published in 'Buch der Lieder' (Book of Songs)in 1827.

See also

  • Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse (book)


  • Charles O. Hartman, Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody, 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, Missing Measures Modern Poetry and the Revolt Against Meter, University of Arkansas Press, 1990.


  1. ^ in the essay "The Music of Poetry"Jackson (1 Jan 1942) ASIN B0032Q49RO
  2. ^ Donald Hall, in the essay 'Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird' in the book of the same title. 1978. ISBN 0-472-40000-2.
  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

Simple English

Free verse is a term for different styles of poetry that do not rhyme. Poets who have written in free verse include Rainer Maria Rilke, Saint-John Perse, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and William Carlos Williams.[1]


  1. "Free verse (poetic term)". Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 


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