What is free verse in poetry?
Free verse is verse without specific requirements for meter and line length. As Enotes says in its Guide To Literary Terms, free verse does rely
upon natural rhythms. It is free from fixed metrical patterns, but does reveal the cadences that result from alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. The form is thought to add force to thought and expression. While giving an address on May 17, 1935, Robert Frost explained, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”
Verse is simply another term for poetry. There is always, in poetry, a heightened quality and a careful intention to the order of words and the organization of the lines, even in free verse where there are no set rules to follow. Poets always carefully structure their work so that the order of the words and the length of each line gives the reader the rhymic and visual impression that they intend. So, though the verse is "free," there is still careful intention behind it.
Enotes gives this example of free verse. This is Walt Whitman, an American poet from the mid-nineteenth century. The poem is "After the sea-ship."
After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds,
After the white-grey sails taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship,
Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displace the surface . . .
lines 1 – 8
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