What is Free Verse?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Free verse is a modern form of poetry that does not follow any specific rhyme or metrical scheme, although it does not completely abandon the basic poetic precepts of heightened language and sonics. This type of poetry is said to have been popularized by such notable poets as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson during the late 19th century, although earlier poets like the mystic William Blake were beginning to pull away from the restrictions of the formal poetry of their day. Whitman's signature collection, Leaves of Grass, is almost entirely composed of free verse poetry. Dickinson, however, still wrote much of her poetry according to the metrics and rhyme of a favored hymn composer.

Walt Whitman wrote in free verse.
Walt Whitman wrote in free verse.

This style of poetry soon became popular with rebellious young poets such as the Frenchman Artur Rimbaud, who wrote many of his best free verse before the age of 18. Other poets embraced the form as a way to express raw emotions or unbridled passion not generally found in the formal poetry of their time. Whitman himself referred to this artistic awakening as the great YAWP, a call for all artists to break free of social conventions and live life to its fullest.

Poets like William Blake began pulling away from the restrictions of formal poetry.
Poets like William Blake began pulling away from the restrictions of formal poetry.

Free verse poetry continued to evolve throughout the 20th century, beginning with poets such as Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost, both of whom were equally comfortable with this form as well as formal poetry. Other poets, such as Amy Lowell and Edna St. Vincent Millay, however, were primarily known for their often scathing free verse poetry. The acerbic writer Dorothy Parker used it to address the social and political issues of her generation. Perhaps the most admired poet in this style was the expatriate Ezra Pound, who became a mentor to many of the 20th century's most famous authors and poets.

Perhaps the poet who pushed the limits of free verse the most was e.e. cummings, an artist and poet whose work reflected the jagged sensibilities of the Jazz Age. cumming's poetry completely abandoned the classical form in favor of idiosyncratic language and stunning visual construction. While some modern literary critics may consider cummings to be more style than substance, many poets working in the style today credit him as an inspiration. Although the style may sound like an opportunity to compose lesser work, the best free verse poets still have a respect for the craft and a method to their madness.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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There is some misunderstanding of 'free verse,' at best an oxymoron; yet is a failed attempt to equate the French Vers Libre, irregular lines as a departure from their patterns in syllabic prosody verse. In the Anglo American tradition, and others, the Hebrew, for example, the so spuriously called 'free verse' is simply prose.

The prose poem is not a modernist invention; the Hebrews wrote their poems in prose.

Oftentimes, categories are confused as in the formulation, prose and poetry. Prose is a mode of writing in our language. Poetry is a genre.

There are two modes: prose and verse. Verse is metered, measured, language, while prose is unmetered language.

Poem is a genre, along with play, novel, and essay. Essay is the expository genre, novel the storytelling, play the dramatization, and poem the lingo music genre. Often each genre will have elements of the others, yet each concentrates on its central purpose. Remember the long verse essays by Alexander Pope?

Free verse poem is really a prose poem and Whitman has magnificent examples.

Two references for this are George Saintsbury's "Historical Manual of English Prosody" first published in 1910; there is a Schocken Books version, NY, 1966 which I have seen in second hand book stores. The other "The Book of Forms" by Lewis Turco. Both volumes, the Saintsbury classic and the more recent Turco are descriptive; they are noted for their avoidance of the prescriptive perspective.

One should read with skepticism even the explanations and handbooks of excellent poets, most are not prosodists, and the excellent poems that they produce have not a necessary relationship to good scholarship.

Forgive my long lapse into pedagogy. Distinctions are important. The prose/verse confusion is perpetrated and perpetuated by literature professors.

I was a library stack hound during my youth and accidentally discovered Saintsbury. It is a must read for scholars in the Anglo American tradition. It occupies the equivalent position in literary history and prosody that Samuelson in Economics, Origin of the Species in evolution studies, Von Mises and Marx in political economy, and Einstein in physics occupy.


Free verse love poems are probably the most popular type of writing I've seen come out of poetry writing classes. Perhaps it is the lack of structure in free verse writing that makes it easy for people to express their thoughts and.

Something about the intangible nature of love and lust makes it easier for the thoughts that come from these two ideals and concepts to be jotted down in a free verse writing form. It is already hard enough to describe these type of intense emotions and feelings in word form, to limit the weight of the words can be structured on the page will simply hinder the thoughts even further.


If you are looking for interesting free verse writing to read, you don't have to look very far on the Internet. All types of free verse writing is available including short free verse and long free verse. They are even famous free verse writers that publish on the Internet to this day.

Free verse that rhymes is my favorite type of writing. While some believe that the lack of structure can distract from father being conveyed, I believe that it is the lack of structure that actually allows for a freer form of thought to be articulated.

Only when we break from the bounds of constrained writing can we truly allow for every word, thought and emotion to be given to the reader.


Unlike, youbiKan, I think that's reversed writing can be one of the best types of ways to express random thoughts and feelings. The use of free verse has to be done properly though. There is some validity into the concept that writing needs structure, after all, that is why we put things like punctuation marks in structure or sentences with proper syntax in order to guide the reader into the thought that we are trying to convey by written word.

Reverse can be very effective in an artform or another type of abstract communication. I don't think that fever should be used in formal communication as to avoid misunderstanding when the information that must be communicated is vital.

So many problems from human communication breakdown exists why should we add to this with the simple claim that free verse is acceptable.


When people describe free verse poetry all I can help think is that they can actually create a structured poem. The nonsensical ramblings of miscellaneous lines of text and font cannot always be described as a single piece of structured writing.

This isn't to discount any validity that a writer might have thoughts that are included within free verse writing, but to give it a label means that it is supposed to have some type of categorization otherwise we should just call it uncategorized.

Reverse may be a good way for people to get out their thoughts and concepts but I think you should be purely used as a rough draft type of writing only did we find into some structure system or pattern that will make it easier for the reader to comprehend and understand.

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