What is the definition of free verse?

The definition of free verse is poetry that does not adhere to the traditional formal structures of rhyme and meter.

Free Verse

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

Free verse - verse that lacks regular meter and line length but relies 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...

(The entire section contains 184 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Guide to Literary Terms study guide. You'll get access to all of the Guide to Literary Terms content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Introduction
  • Complete Index
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Free verse - verse that lacks regular meter and line length but relies 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.”

Free came through Middle English from the Old English freo, meaning “free.” The etymology of verse is discussed under that listing.

Milton was experimenting with free verse in Samson Agonistes, and Walt Whitman used it in his “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


Explore all literary terms.


Illustration of PDF document

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Formula

Next

Foreshadowing