Why was free verse so necessary for the poets of the Modern Period? How does free verse indicate a shift from previous poetic styles?  

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First, it is important to note that not all poets writing in the period called "modernist" were followers of the poetic movement "Modernism." Robert Frost, for example, was, like many of the "Georgian" poets, avowedly anti-modernist and famously compared writing free verse to playing tennis without a net....

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First, it is important to note that not all poets writing in the period called "modernist" were followers of the poetic movement "Modernism." Robert Frost, for example, was, like many of the "Georgian" poets, avowedly anti-modernist and famously compared writing free verse to playing tennis without a net. Wallace Stevens, a distinguished modernist poet, routinely wrote in traditional meters, and even Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot wrote some poems in traditional forms and others in free verse.

Ezra Pound argued that a poem should have a musical rhythm rather than the regularity of a metronome. He felt that poets should use rhythm for specific poetic effects rather than blindly following tradition for its own sake. His own poetry is rhythmically complex, influenced by Oriental, classical, and medieval verse forms, and includes passages in both regular and free verse. He was opposed not to using the sonnet form but to artificially forcing a poem into that form if the poem did not organically demand it. His notion of "free" verse was not so much an absence of rhythmical pattern but rather of the freedom to create a rhythmical pattern appropriate to the needs to the individual poem.

T. S. Eliot stated:

... the ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the ‘freest’ verse; ... Or, freedom is only truly freedom when it appears against the background of an artificial limitation.

For Eliot, individual expression always exists against a background of tradition but the essence of modernity is the fragmentation of tradition, and his formal technique in fragmenting meter expresses the breakdown of traditional culture. His poetic technique was in his mind necessitated as a response to the modern condition in which the old forms and modes of thought were breaking down.

Williams, on the other hand, follows an American tradition of writing in free verse that reflects the rhythms and traditions of American speech and rebels against traditional meter as something belonging to European culture and alien to an authentic American voice.

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