Friday, October 2, 2009

Free Verse

FREE VERSE: Poetry based on the natural rhythms of phrases and normal pauses rather than the artificial constraints of metrical feet. Commonly called vers libre in French (the English term first appears in print in 1908), this poetry often involves the counterpoint of stressed and unstressed syllables in unpredictable but clever ways. Its origins are obscure. Early poetry that is similar to free verse includes the Authorized Bible translations of the Psalms and the Song of Songs; Milton clearly experimented with something like free verse in Lycidas and Samson Agonistes as well. However the Enlightenment's later emphasis on perfect meter during the 1700s prevented this experimentation from developing much further during the 18th century. The American poet Walt Whitman first made extended successful use of free verse in the 19th century, and he in turn influenced Baudelaire, who developed the technique in French poetry. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we find several poets using some variant of free verse--including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, and e. e. cummings. Do note that, within individual sections of a free verse poem, a specific line or lines may fall into metrical regularity.


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