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(vers libre) a system of versification whose principles have not been fully elucidated. The various types of free verse differ from prose only by virtue of their arrangement into lines and the resulting interlinear pauses.
Free verse is distinguished from traditional verse forms by alternation of lines of varying length, absence of rhyme, and relative irregularity of accent and of intervals between accents. On the other hand, the syllabic composition, accentual system, and syntactic unity of free verse link it to such traditional forms of national poetry as the syllabotonic and tonic in Russia, the alexandrine in France, and the Knittelverse (national tetrameter) and German hexameter in Germany.
Free verse is generally used in epic works, in works dealing with philosophic problems, and in works devoted to reminiscences.
Factors influencing the development of free verse have included colloquial speech, folk poetry, biblical and liturgical verse, an increasingly limited rhyme repertoire, and the need to renew verse. Foreign literary works have also played a role through translations, imitations, and a quest for native metric and rhythmic equivalents.
The term “vers libre” was introduced by the French poet G. Kahn in 1884, although free verse had been written since the second half of the 18th century by Goethe, J. C. F. Hölderlin, and Heine in Germany, Blake and Whitman in England and the USA, respectively, and A. P. Sumarokov in Russia.
During the 19th century, isolated examples of free verse were written in Russia by V. A. Zhukovskii, A. A. Del’vig, F. N. Glinka, M. Iu. Lermontov, A. A. Fet, and M. L. Mikhailov; Mikhailov translated Heine’s free-verse cycle The North Sea into Russian.
Free verse first became popular in the 1870’s, increasing in importance in the 20th century with the works of A. Rimbaud, J. Laforgue, H. de Régnier, E. Verhaeren, G. Apollinaire, P. Eluard, F. T. Marinetti, T. S. Eliot, J. R. Becher, Pablo Neruda, and Nazim Hikmet Ran.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many examples of free verse were written in Russia by A. M. Dobroliubov, A. A. Blok, M. A. Kuzmin, V. V. Khlebnikov, and the artist N. K. Roerich. Contemporary Russian free verse, which became important particularly after the late 1950’s, has been written by E. M. Vinokurov, V. A. Soloukhin, and D. S. Samoilov. In other literatures free verse is represented by E. Mezhelaitis, I. F. Drach, and M. Tank. The principles of free verse are the subject of continuing study by specialists.
REFERENCESZhovtis, A. L. “O kriteriiakh tipologicheskoi kharakteristiki svobodnogo stikha (Obzor problemy).” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1970, no. 2.
Mamonov, A. I. Svobodnyi stikh v iaponskoi poezii. Moscow, 1971.
Baevskii, V. S. “O prirode russkogo svobodnogo stikha.” In his book Stikh russkoi sovetskoi poezii. Smolensk, 1972.
“Ot chego ne svoboden svobodnyi stikh?” Voprosy literatury, 1972, no. 2.
Hrushovski, B. “On Free Rhythmus in Modern Poetry.” In Style in Language. New York-London, 1960.
Czerny, Ł. “Le Vers libre français et son art structural.” In the collection Poetics, Poetyka, Poetika. Warsaw, 1961.
V. S. BAEVSKII and V. A. SAPOGOV