Free Verse

What Is Free Verse?

Free verse is poetry that has neither a rhyme scheme nor a consistent meter. While it can rhyme in some places, and it may have metrical feet in others, the only characteristics of formal poetry that it retains are lines and stanzas.

While it may seem that free verse is something anyone can slap together, many poets have argued that free verse is just as difficult — if not more difficult — to write than formal verse because the writer must decide how to structure the poem, control its rhythm, and find the proper line and stanza length to express its meaning effectively.

How Do You Identify Free Verse in Writing?

To some extent, knowing when a poem was written lets you know whether or not it could be written in free verse. Walt Whitman, the nineteenth-century American poet, was an innovator in the use of long, elegiac lines of free verse, and he was a pioneer in this form. Virtually no one had used free verse before the Victorian Era. Thus, only newer poems exist in this form.

Other ways to check for free verse are to read the poem aloud to see if it conforms to standard metrical patterns such as iambic (where the stress falls on the second beat) or trochaic (where the stress falls on the first beat). Rhyme schemes and especially repeating terminal words or lines may indicate poetic forms like the villanelle or sestina.

Examples of Free Verse

Free Verse Example 1. “There’s a pulse in Richard/that day and night says/ revolution  revolution  revolution” — Denise Levertov, from “Let Us Sing Unto the Lord a New Song.”

Free Verse Example 2. “She wears her own face/as we do not,/until we cease to wear/the clouds/of all confusion,” — Charles Olsen, from “Maximus, to Gloucester, Letter 19 (A Pastoral Letter.”

Free Verse Example 3. “I am becoming one/Of the old men./I wonder about them,” And how they became/So happy.” — James Wright, from “A Poem of Towers.

Free Verse Example 4. “I listen./I hear nothing. Only/the cow, the cow/of nothingness, mooing/down the bones.” — Galway Kinnell, from “Another Night in the Ruins.”

Free Verse Example 5. “Swift boomerang, come get!/I am delicate. You’ve been gone./The losing has hurt me some, yet/I must bend for you.” — Anne Sexton, from “Eighteen Days Without You.”

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