Free verse is any form of poetry that does not rely on consistent patterns of rhyme and meter. Free-verse poetry doesn’t have to rhyme at all.

As a result, free verse tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech.

However, a natural rhythm may still emerge despite lacking a specific metrical structure. Poets still use alliteration, rhythms, and other poetic techniques to create their desired effect. They may also use rhyme, but it’s usually irregular and doesn’t follow a particular pattern.

Free verse is also referred to by its French name, vers libre.

The origins of free-verse poetry

Traditionally, poems have a consistent rhyme scheme and meter. Poets have written this way for hundreds of years, following strict rhyme schemes in sonnets or using rhymes in narrative poetry to tell a story.

In the 19th century, however, this began to change. Poets such as Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of poems without rhymes.

Whitman, in particular, is said to have ‘reinvented poetry.’ He was the first major poet to write in free verse, and his writing heavily influenced modernist poets in the 20th century, such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and T.S. Eliot.

Why do poets write in free verse?

Free verse is one of the most common forms used in contemporary poetry. Because there are no set rules and you don’t have to follow a strict rhyme scheme or structure, poets have much more freedom to experiment.

Poets also have more freedom with word choice. With rhyming poems, you’re restricted to using words that fit the rhyme scheme and meter. With free-verse poetry, poets can choose any words they like and not worry about whether it rhymes or works in a particular meter.

Without the restrictions of a rhyme scheme or meter, poets can focus on artistic expression through similes, metaphors, phrases, images, alliteration, and more.

Free-verse poetry also depends on sounds, whereas traditional poetry depends on rhyme. This is because the sounds and intonations of words also play a part in the poem’s meaning.

How did free-verse poetry start?

To teach free-verse poems to children, it might be helpful to give them some sense of where they came from. The style of writing poetry began in the 19th Century, explaining why it can also be called vers libre.

It soon spread from France to Britain, where it became popular towards the start of the 20th Century. The way that art was expressed around this time was undergoing significant transformation. In the painting world, artists were taking to the idea of expressionism. This movement favored a subjective painting that didn’t prioritize an accurate rendition of the world but the artist’s perspective.

Similarly, in the literary world, artists were trying to create poetry that departed from the norms of past literature. For example, free-verse poet, Ezra Pound, said the point of this movement was ‘to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.’ Free-verse became especially popular in the wake of The Great War, which had renewed people’s views of the world and their relationship to old traditions.

From then, free-verse became a predominant literary style that only grew in popularity throughout the 20th Century.

Examples of free-verse poetry

Here are some free-verse poems for children.

What Weeping Face

What weeping face is that looking from the window?
Why does it stream those sorrowful tears?
Is it for some burial place, vast and dry?
Is it to wet the soil of graves?

— Walt Whitman

As previously mentioned, Walt Whitman has been at the forefront of free-verse poetry. This poem features no rhymes; however, it still evokes a strong feeling and image of sadness through its word choice and intonations.

Come slowly — Eden!

Come slowly – Eden!

Lips unused to Thee –

Bashful – sip thy Jessamines –

As the fainting Bee –

Reaching late his flower,

Round her chamber hums –

Counts his nectars –

Enters – and is lost in Balms.

— Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, an American poet, is also famous for her free verse. This poem doesn’t have a consistent rhyme scheme (even though it does rhyme in places) and instead follows the rhythm of natural speech. However, Dickinson’s carefully chosen words create an image — ‘bee,’ ‘flower,’ and ‘nectars’ all evoke nature imagery.

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