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Free Verse versus Blank Verse

by Frank Fields
copyright 03-24-2008

Age Rating: 7 +

What are they?
When should I use them?
How to tell which is which?
And what else?


Free Verse is:
variable, usually unrhymed lines, having no fixed, consistent metrical pattern.

Blank Verse is:
unrhymed verse, but with a fixed metrical pattern.

Free verse is generally used when the author wants more freedom for his/her words and thoughts than would be possible if confined to a fixed format or structure. When an author wants to elevate his/her work onto a poetic level, beyond a prose format, free verse is an excellent vehicle.

Blank verse is generally used when the author wants the dramatic effects created by having to stay within a fixed format or structure,such as the iambic pentameter.
Blank verse can be a very dramatic vehicle for epic and reflective presentations.


Walt Whitman was a famous American free verse poet.

This is an excerpt from his

Leaves of Grass, 1855 edition, page 14:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the
eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.


As you can see, it has no rhyme scheme. Neither does it have a fixed metrical pattern.


William Shakespeare was, of course, a famous English poet.

This is an excerpt from his


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Here, also, there isn't any rhyme scheme. But there is a very definite, consistent metrical pattern. The iambic pentameter. Read the lines carefully and slowly, and you'll find the pattern emerges of an unaccented syllable followed immediately by an accented or stressed syllable. This is an iambic foot. Further, each line contains 5 of these feet. A total of 10 syllables.


Like that.


So how to tell which is which?

Look for a rhyme scheme.
If it doesn't have one, then look for a consistent meter, a "beat." If it doesn't have one of those, either, you're looking at free verse.

If it doesn't have a rhyme scheme, but does have a "beat," you're looking at blank verse.


Does all blank verse have to have that iambic thing?

No, of course not. That is just a very recognizable and appealing pattern.


What else?

Be consistent in each work that you present within that work, itself. Be kind to your readers. If you are, they'll return. Again and again, to enjoy your works.

Unless there's a good reason to mix up forms and formats within the given work, it's better to not confuse your readers by doing that.

I hope this was helpful. ^^


Author's Note (03.08.14):
Edits to correct spelling only.  No other changes.

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        03-09-2014     Walter Jones        

First your examples brought back so warm a memory, then there is the guidance, always on que, me I am always playing with the other side of the coin, I think the world needs both, but you have lent more, the start-up poet has a base to view and write. Best day out there.. Walt

        03-09-2014     Mae Futter Stein        

Very interesting, Frank. I really don't care for
the free verse, as I hear that daily in life time chatting and e-mails. I thank you for telling me what a free verse is, though. The poetry rhyme
scheme is my favorite as it can be so beautiful
in words that touch the heart. It comes natural to me, as I come from a line of poets in my slowly fading family. Your free verse and blank verse is very helpful to me and I appreciate this message of advise. You wrote it very well. Thank you for the read. Hugs.....

        03-09-2014     Alan Reed        

Very thoughtful piece for all of us Frank. It is a missive that we should have etched into our right-sided cerebellum. Thank you for updating and sharing. Concise and helpful. - Alan

        03-08-2014     Frank Fields        

This work, also, has been rewarded with a large number of hits. 14,110 as of this comment. I can only think that it is, in fact, serving its intended purpose: clarifying two sometimes confusing poetic categories.

My very warm thanks to all of you for this attention, with hopes that it fulfilled its purpose and intent. ^^

Frank :)

        07-20-2010     Leigh Gilholm Fisher        

Despite my many years here on PnP, I admit that I still had some questions about the subtle differences between Free and Blank Verse. XD It was a pleasure to find this article! It really clears everything up. Thank you for sharing!

~Leigh of the Commenting Community

        11-21-2009     Cynthia Baello        

Thank you so much for this and again, it has given me needed guidance. I have read this twice and may read it a third or fourth time, each time as I write my poem. Confusion with free verse and blank verse always plague my format, and your hints and guides are very valuable to me. I am glad I read this and I am gratedul you share your excellence with us.

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