Vers Libre, or free verse, is the predominant form of contemporary poetry in the 21st century. Most contemporary poets are writing free verse poems, relying on bold word choice without a set structure – aside, perhaps, from structures they give themselves.

English language poetry, today, is dominated by free verse, which allows the poet to express their opinions, themes and desires without the strict limitations of structured poetry.

When you don’t need to worry about iambic pentameter, or other rhythmic structures, a free verse poem offers complete freedom to the writer.

What Is Free Verse?

Many people consider “free verse” to be poetry without rhyme. Rhyme, however, is only one element of traditional verse structure. Free verse retains the other elements of traditional verse structures: line length or meter, stanzas and refrains. Just as there is free rhythm in prose writing, there is free rhythm in free verse writing.

How Many Types of Free Verse Are There?

Free verse itself is its own form of poetry. However, it is often confused or grouped with other forms of unrhymed poetry, such as prose poetry and blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter).

Free verse poems can be written is, essentially, any way you choose. Whether that involves long, run-on lines which spread across multiple pages, enjambed lines or other styles with interesting line breaks, it is completely up to you to create your own form of free verse poetry.

What are the elements of a free verse poem?

Free verse poems, typically, do not follow strict guidelines. Instead, they focus on using imagery and words that evoke powerful feelings and emotions in the reader. Poets choose to write free verse poems because they want to push their writing out of its standard boundaries, ignoring rhyme, meter, or even common structures.

The most important element of a free verse is that it does not have a regular rhythm. It may still rhyme, in parts, but the focus is on what the poem is saying rather than how it sounds. In traditional poetry, poets often use strict meter to make their poems sound good as they are read aloud-a challenge with free verse

In free verse poems, there can be an emphasis on images and feelings through a number of imagery words used throughout the work, or the use of line breaks and enjambment to convey the meaning of the poem, rather than relying on a specific kind of structure.

How is free verse different from traditional poetry?

There are significant differences between free verse and traditional poetry. The biggest difference is the structure of the poems. Authors like William Carlos Williams or Emily Dickinson wrote in free verse, meaning their poems do not follow any sort of rhythm or rhyme scheme. Instead, they focus on what the author wants to say, and it is up to the poet themselves to decide how best to represent their work.

Traditional poets, however, would typically need to adhere to a specific structure. This could include a strict rhyme scheme; specific syllable counts or other forms of structure.

Are there any free verse rules?

No, there aren’t any specific rules to writing free verse. Free verse is writing that does not follow any set number of lines or syllables, nor does it have a specific rhythm. There are no rules for meter, line length, rhyming schemes, or anything else to do with poetry. This makes it very different from structured forms of poetry, such as haiku and sonnets.

Does free verse have stanzas?

Yes, free verse poetry can have stanzas – however, it doesn’t need to. It’s up to the poet themselves whether to split their poem into different stanzas. Free verse is a poetry style that does not use rhyme, meter, or lines. It can be written as couplets (2-line stanzas), triplets (3-line stanzas), quatrains (4-line stanzas) etc., but it doesn’t have to. Free verse is often used in both short poems and significantly longer pieces of work, including: “Harper Lee” by Jelaluddin Rumi uses couplets and “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” by T.S Eliot uses quatrains.

Are Blank Verse And Free Verse The Same?

No. Blank verse is poetry without rhyme, but it does follow a set of rules for rhythm that are similar to the ones free verse doesn’t have. Free verse could be said to be poetry without rules, while blank verse must follow iambic pentameter without a strict rhyme scheme.

What’s the difference between blank verse and free verse?

Blank verse is poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter; it is usually formal, dignified and solemnly grandiose. It has its origins in the Elizabethan era of English literature.

‘Free Verse’ is an imprecise term, but it generally describes poetry that does not comply with the conventional rules of a rhyme scheme, metre and line length. It often makes use of more natural forms than blank verse.

Can a sonnet be free verse?

No, a sonnet cannot be written in free verse. However, a free verse poem can read similar to a sonnet in terms of length or structure. Sonnets must meet one of several rhyming structures and be 14 lines in length. The freedom that comes with writing in free verse means you can do whatever’s best for the poem itself, rather than forcing your poem to meet the criteria of an accepted form.

Can Free Verse Poems Have Repetition?

Yes, they can! Free verse poems are not limited to only one syllable type or line length. Instead, they can be many different things. For example, free verse poems do not even need to have lines! They could also have repetition of line lengths and/or types of syllables throughout them.

Does Free Verse Poetry Need Punctuation?

No, you don’t need to use punctuation in free verse poems. In poetry, punctuation frequently has little value other than as emphasis or pauses in sentences. Punctuation can be used to highlight important words but will often take away from the beauty of the composition.

Despite this, many poets still use a great deal of punctuation in their poems. Although some may believe that using very little punctuation makes the work seem more artistic and free flowing, it can also be decided that it takes away from what was intended to be said.

What Are Some Examples of Free Verse?

Free verse is extremely diverse, but there are some examples you can check out if you’re having trouble understanding what it looks like: Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric” is an example of free verse prose poetry. Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” exemplifies unrhymed iambic pentameter. Most of Ginsberg’s work is written in free verse, in addition to contemporary poets like Kaveh Akbar and Amanda Gorman.

Which Established Authors Write in Free Verse?

Yes! Here are some examples: Emily Dickinson wrote many of her poems in loose iambic tetrameter, including “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Charles Bukowski’s poem “The Laughing Heart” is an example of prose poetry. Maya Angelou’s autobiographical writing style, including her “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, has often been described as free verse. Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” uses unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Who Famously Writes Free Verse?

Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Edgar Allen Poe, Phillip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, Charles Bukowski and Maya Angelou are just a few of the writers who wrote in free verse. Most contemporary poets choose to write in free verse.

Who is known as father of free verse?

There are several poets who have been called the “father of free verse”. Whitman is often cited as the “father of free verse” in America. He is known for emphasizing the power of natural speech over traditional, formal uses of language. Whitman wrote poetry that was meant to be read aloud; he argued that all poetry should represent voices and sounds, not just imagery on paper. Instead of rhyme or meter, Whitman used the natural rhythm of common, every-day language.

While Walt Whitman was one of the first poets who received international acclaim for free verse, there were other writers working in the form before him, including French poets who were often the first to adopt any new or modern form.

Did Sylvia Plath write free verse?

Yes, Sylvia Plath wrote a great deal of her poetry in free verse. Sylvia Plath uses free verse in her poem ‘Tulips’ to communicate the experience of loss and grief. The speaker’s love for this tulip is so strong that they believe even after the flower has died, they can feel its “faint odour” on their fingers. They come to the realization that just because something dies does not mean you have to let it go or forget about it all together

However, not all of her poetry is written in free verse. She uses various poetic techniques which are more closely linked with traditional poetry forms such as rhyme schemes and meter. Even though some poems may not include standard elements of form, most of her work is still metered; she used syllabic meters (such as amphibrach or pyrrhic) in her works to add rhythm and rhyme.

In ‘Morning Song’, the last poem from Ariel, she uses a metered stanza with an ABAB rhyme scheme for most of the poem. However, there are some lines that do not follow this pattern in order to add dramatic effect, such as the end of line 10 “dead” and line 12 “the window”, these lines are emphasized by their lack of rhyme

In ‘Daddy’, a poem from Ariel, she uses a quatrain with tetrameter for each line in the first stanza and a trimeter for each line of the second. She also includes unrhymed lines of iambic (stressed and unstressed syllables) tetrameter for dramatic effect, such as line 8 “if I had” and line 17 “then you would.”

She uses a trimeter quatrain with rhyme in her poem ‘Berck-Plage’ to convey that each day of the speaker’s journey through the town is much like the one before. Even though Plath uses rhyme in this poem, she also makes use of free verse to show how each day has gone by and what happens on that day.

As you can see, when it comes to the technical aspect of writing free verse poetry, there is just as much to learn as structured poetry. In fact, it could be argued that there is much more to learn, as the modern poet can use techniques from every poetic form, whether you’re borrowing from French poetry, dedicated to artistic expression or weaponising patterned elements to make your point.

Why Would Someone Write in Free Verse?

People write in free verse for many reasons. Sometimes free verse is used to explore subjects in greater depth than you could with traditional forms. Other times, free verse is employed as a stylistic choice meant to achieve a specific effect — such as alienation or comedy. Free verse can also be written as an abbreviated poetic form; for example, “The Raven” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are both free verse refrains, which use three lines or an odd number of lines to convey ideas.

Who Writes Free Verse?

People who write free verse may explore subjects in greater depth than you could with traditional forms of poetry. Other times they may use free verse as a stylistic choice meant to achieve a specific effect. Similarly, anyone who is looking to create a poem that uses a wide range of technical components may be drawn to free verse in place of more traditional, structured poetry.

Who started free verse poetry?

The most commonly accepted answer is Walt Whitman, who wrote the poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider” in 1867. Before this was written, poems were often structured with rhyme and regular meter. Afterward, free verse became more widely used, although it did persist (sometimes for parody) alongside regular meter.

T.S. Eliot, who is believed to have written the first formal free verse poetry in “The Waste Land”, inverting Walt Whitman’s style of writing by using visual imagery rather than specific textual references.

In the 1920s, free verse became more widely used. In Europe, Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Alcools” was a prime example of this shift in writing style. In America at this same time, poems by writers such as Hart Crane, Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams were also appearing regularly in magazines and journals.

Formal free verse poetry is a style of writing which uses the elements and techniques of traditional verse without adherence to formal rhythmic structure or exact rhyming patterns. It also does not use the standard tools of rhythm, such as meter, to create a work with lyrical qualities. The result is a poem that can be read as prose. Instead of repeating patterns, formal free verse tends to use sentence structures that are altered or fragmented in order to create a feeling of motion.

There are many different types of free verse poetry including the following: descriptive, naturalistic, existential, concrete, personal and narrative. Each type uses elements unique to its category.

How Does Free Verse Relate to English Literature?

Free verse is often associated with the literary tradition known as Modernism which started in late 19th century England and continued throughout the 20th century. Over the past 100 years, free verse has continually developed to become the leading form of poetry used by contemporary poets.

What is free verse in Modernism?

Free verse refers to poetry that follows no fixed regulations. It is not marked by any certain form of punctuation, rhyme or meter. The American poet Stephen Crane believed “free verse is the only kind of modern poetry worth writing.” Some theories suggest free verse was introduced in the 19th century as a reaction to Romanticism’s excessive poetic diction and Romantic poets’ celebration of imagination and individualism.

Free verse is often seen as a conjunction of two separate traditions: one based on the use of “free” rhythm, meter, and rhyme; the other rooted in discursive prose. Free verse has more emphasis on sound than traditional poetry and more variety in its structure.

Free Verse Poetry In The 21st Century

Free verse poetry is the most popular form of contemporary poetry for a wide range of reasons. Here at Vers Libre, we’re committed to exploring the art form of poetry, and helping people to develop their understanding. I hope you found the above article interesting, and that it answered some of your burning questions about free verse poetry, and how we got here.

Obviously, free verse poetry is too large a subject to tackle in a single article. That’s why this site is committed to exploring specific techniques, poems, structures in detail. If you did find the above article interesting, keep an eye out from some of our writing guides, or more detailed articles, which are designed to tackle specific subjects and techniques you can use in your writing.

If you’ve got any questions you need answering, don’t hesitate to send us a message. In addition to our writing guides, we’ll also do our best to create articles based around reader’s questions, so feel free to get in touch. Whatever level of skill you’re at when writing free verse, Vers Libre is here to help.

J.W. Carey
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