Free verse

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Free verse

Free verse: From the French vers libre, literally meaning “free verse,” poetry that lacks a regular meter, does not rhyme, and uses irregular (and sometimes very short) line lengths. Writers of free verse disregard traditional poetic conventions of rhyme and meter, relying instead on parallelism, repetition, and the ordinary cadences and stresses of everyday discourse. In English, notable use of free verse dates back to the 1611 King James translation of the Psalms and Song of Solomon, but it was not really recognized as an important new form until the American poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855). Since World War I, nonrhyming and nonmetrical forms of verse have become the norm.

EXAMPLES: Carl Sandburg’s “Grass” (1918), the first half of which follows:

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work —

I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work… .

Other examples of free verse include Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” (1865) and W. S. Merwin’s “The Judgment of Paris” (1967).