The UVic Writer's Guide

Free Verse

Free verse is sometimes confused with blank verse, which does not rhyme but has a set metrical pattern. Free verse, on the other hand, has no rules whatsoever. The lines are irregular and may or may not rhyme. Instead of fitting content to form, the poet allows content to shape the form, changing line length and meter to emphasize words and sounds. Free verse develops its own rhythms, most often annotated by the use of the line-break, and is capable of complex effects of rhythmical and syntactical ambiguity.

Free verse is the most common verse form in modern poetry; this extract of a poem (1861) by Walt Whitman, one of the pioneers of free verse, is an example of the way that verse can be both free in rhythm and at the same time strongly rhythmical:

Beat! beat! drums! blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows--through doors--burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet--no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums--so shrill you bugles blow.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995