free verse

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free verse

free verse, term loosely used for rhymed or unrhymed verse made free of conventional and traditional limitations and restrictions in regard to metrical structure. Cadence, especially that of common speech, is often substituted for regular metrical pattern. Free verse is a literal translation of the French vers libre, which originated in late 19th-century France among poets, such as Arthur Rimbaud and Jules Laforgue, who sought to free poetry from the metrical regularity of the alexandrine. The term has also been applied by modern literary critics to the King James translation of the Bible, particularly the Song of Solomon and the Psalms, to certain poems of Matthew Arnold, and to the irregular poetry of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The form is also closely associated with English and American poets of the 20th cent. who sought greater liberty in verse structure, including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and Marianne Moore.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Free Verse


(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.


Zhovtis, 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

free verse

unrhymed verse without a metrical pattern
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
However, if a dynamic of phrasing suffices for a text to be deemed rhythmic, is there no risk of collapsing the difference between verse, even free verse, and prose, which would presumably also have rhythmic phrasing?
Like Columbus in America, Whitman did not discover free verse; but he attracted attention to its existence.
For not only would Tennyson's self-styled gnostic "wantonness" aptly describe the prosodic projects of Modernist rock stars like Eliot and Ezra Pound, but Coleridge's ideas about organic form, as Donald Wesling observes in his essay, "The Prosodies of Free Verse," "prefigured the nature of avant-garde writing." (9) In terms of Coleridge's dichotomy between mechanic and organic form, Tennyson was always playing "shape as superinduced" (a Spenserian stanza, say) against "form as proceeding" (distending the same stanza about the languid lotos-eaters)--while not committing entirely to either generative concept ("Lecture XIII," p.
Written in free verse, Senior's text reads like a sing-song conversation sprinkled with repetition, onomatopoeia, lists and different types of rhyme (e.g., internal and oblique).
Ironically, however, Mezey soon found himself lamenting the crucial role he played in what he calls here the free-verse "tsunami." In true Mezey form, the poet retracted his support of the free verse revolution in American poetry.
Unafraid to experiment with free verse in a wide variety of formats and tempos, Because Why is an eclectic collection of harsh thoughts, lofty ideals, fond memories, snapshots of dark reality, and much more.
The most cursory survey of new poetry books confirms the predominance of free verse. As Donald Justice put it in his essay "Of the Music of Poetry," "surely nine-tenths of the poems written last night and every night for decades now in America and doubtless in the world at large must have been written in some kind of free verse--of course there are a thousand kinds."
The sweeping lyrics, evocative of the resilience and beauty of nature, distinguish this breathtaking celebration of California in free verse. "My goal is to relate the descriptions to living animals / Who is truly flea-bitten here?
The guide helps them meld these ideas into free verse that can be shared with friends and loved ones.
Davidson, too, grants the free verse form a seriousness many poets elide or ignore.
In her second chapter, Goulesque examines what she identifies as "metissages": "metissage" of Krysinska's bicultural (Polish and French) identity; "metissage" of poetic and spoken language; and "metissage" of poetic forms, between prose poetry and free verse. In this part of her study, Goulesque touches on a most compelling aspect of Krysinska's lire and work: namely, the resistance to easy categorization.