Blank verse is poetry comprised of unrhymed lines of the same meter, commonly used for longer poems. The form is also considered one of the best to use for dramatic verse written in English. Without the requirement of rhyme, the flexibility and challenges for the poet’s use of language changes dramatically. The form is sometimes confused with free verse, but they are different.
English writers such as Shakespeare and Milton commonly chose blank verse as their preferred form. It is no longer a standard or common form of poetry, but is still in use by some poets. Blank form is also often used as an exercise in discipline to shape a poem or organize complex ideas.
Although any meter can be used, iambic pentameter is traditionally the preferred meter. It consists of ten syllables, of which the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables are accented. The “iam” in iambic pentameter consists of two syllables, one unstressed, the other unstressed. “Toupee” is an iam. Ten such syllables create a line of iambic pentameter as used in traditional blank verse.
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The iam represents one “foot” in a line’s meter. There are five iambic feet in the ten syllables, giving the meter its name. There are other types of feet with more syllables and different stresses that can also be used in blank verse. There are many variations and combinations.
This can be a demanding form to write in because it requires consistency in the use of meter, but variety in the way it is employed. This can be achieved by using words that create pauses within a line. The stress among syllables can also be shifted through word choices, and use of alliteration can change the pace or flow of a line.
Some writers like the unrhymed iambic pentameter for use in narrative poems. It lengthens the lines, while also tending to “push” them into the next line. This strengthens the force of the lines and tends to create the steady “onward” rhythm that drives narrative poetry.
Blank verse should not be confused with free verse. Poetry written in free verse, sometimes called “open” verse, does not use conventional meters or a rhyme scheme. Instead, it relies on the creation of its own rhythms through the use of particular words and they way they sound together. There is no rhyme pattern, but the poet may choose to rhyme certain words for a desired effect.