Blank verse

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

Blank verse

Blank verse: Broadly defined, any unrhymed verse, but usually referring to unrhymed iambic pentameter. Most critics agree that blank verse, as commonly defined, first appeared in English when the Earl of Surrey used it in his translation (c. 1540) of books 2 and 4 of Virgil’s The Aeneid (c. 15 B.C.). It appeared for the first time in drama in Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton’s Gorboduc (1562). Over the centuries, blank verse has become the most common English verse form, especially for extended poems, as it is considered the closest form to natural patterns of English speech. Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and especially John Milton (particularly in his epic Paradise Lost [1667]) are generally credited with establishing blank verse as the preferred English verse form.

FURTHER EXAMPLES: The following passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “verse novel” Aurora Leigh (1857), an extended poem of some eleven thousand lines:

… But poets should

Exert a double vision; should have eyes

To see near things as comprehensively

As if afar they took their point of sight,

And distant things as intimately deep

As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.

I do distrust the poet who discerns

No character or glory in his times… .

The opening lines of Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” (1916) are written in blank verse:

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay

As ice-storms do… .