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Blank verse and free verse: often misunderstood and misused.
Blank Verse and Free Verse
by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Goal: Writers need to be able to understand and use blank verse and free verse correctly and effectively.

         Examples of Blank Verse and Free Verse

NOTES: Blank Verse and Free Verse are probably the most misunderstood and misused forms of poetry. Before we can use either correctly, we must first understand what they are and what they are not.

         Blank verse consists of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter (ten syllables with the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables accented). The form has generally been accepted as the best for dramatic verse in English and is commonly used for long poems whether dramatic, philosophical, or narrative.

         While blank verse appears easy to write, good blank verse demands more artistry and genius than most any other verse form. The freedom gained through the lack of rhyme is offset by the demands for required variety. Some ways of gaining that variety are as follows:

1. Shifting caesura, or pause, from place to place within the lines.

2. Shifting of the stress among syllables.

3. The use of stanzas to group thoughts together (like paragraphs in prose).

4. Variation in tonal qualities by changing diction from passage to passage.

5. Adaptation of the form to reproduction of differences in the speech of characters in dramatic and narrative verse and in differences of emotional expression.

6. The effective use of poetic devices.

         Blank verse is not any metrical unrhymed form of verse.

         Free Verse is poetry that is based on the irregular rhythmic cadence recurring, with variations of phrases, images, and syntactical patterns rather than the conventional use of meter. In other words, free verse has no rhythm scheme or pattern. However, much poetic language and devices are found in free verse.

         Rhyme may or may not be used in free verse, but, when rhyme is used, it is used with great freedom. In other words, free verse has no rhyme scheme or pattern.

         Free verse does not mean rhyme cannot be used, only that it must be used without any pattern.


1. Read the example of blank verse on the handout. Consider the meter and lack of rhyme.

2. Read the examples of free verse on the handout. Consider the lack of rhythm scheme. Is there any rhythm? What? How? Consider any rhyme. Where rhyme is found, is there any pattern?

1. Write a four to eight line poem in blank verse. Use the ways of varying the lines as found in the lecture, using at least three poetry devices besides caesura.

2. Write a four to eight line poem in free verse. Be sure to use at least four poetry devices.

Examples of Blank Verse and Free Verse

Blank verse:

from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

...bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
From off the battlements of yonder tower;
Or walk in thievish ways; or bid me lurk
Where serpents are; chain me with roaring bears;
Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house,
O’er covered quite with dead men’s rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;
Or bid me go into a new-made grave,
And hide me with a dead man and his shroud;

(Note: This section is also an excellent example of hyperbole.)

Free verse:

From Milton’s "Samson Agonistes"

But patience is more oft the exercise
Of Saints, the trial of their fortitude,
Making them each his own Deliver,
And Victor over all
That tyranny or fortune can inflict.

From Walt Whitman’s "Leaves of Grass"

All truths wait in all things,
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon.

Free verse with rhyme

           The Storm
         by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Lightning strikes as thunder roars
Sending war across the skies.
Blackness blankets light of night
Except when fire flashes bright,
Blinding eyes to truth, to right.
Tears of agony rain from irate clouds,
Which smother joy, bringing moans
Of pain, despair, distress,
Leaving open bleeding sores
That never can be healed
Until the battle ends
With God’s peace revealed.

Note: although rhyme is used, there is no rhyme scheme (or pattern).

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