It’s not difficult to define free verse as it has some specific features. The free verse is partially or completely devoid of structure: stanza, rhyme, rhythm. However, it contains the characteristics of the poem:
- phrases are divided into lines;
- each starts with a capital letter;
- there are sound replays
As we see by definition, the free verse is like on the verge of verse and prose, since it does not retain the characteristics typical for the traditional verse language: rhyme and size. However, the free verse is divided into separate lines with the pose at the end of each, and most importantly – such a poetic work reveals a certain rhythm. Interestingly, the free verse was known before Whitman – it begins its life in folklore. In fiction literature, free verse develops in the Middle Ages (primarily in liturgical poetry), in the works of German pre-romantics and French symbolists.
Nevertheless, the most famous free verse writer who wrote in English is without any doubt Walt Whitman. His ‘Leaves of Grass’ is a world-famous poetry collection almost all the verses of which are free.
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
Free verse examples and famous free verse poems
The world literature appreciates free verse so there are many famous free verse poems.
‘Leaves of Grass’ by W. Withman
“Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
and of every moment of your life”
‘Samson Agonistes’ by Milton
But patience is more often the exercise
Of Saints, the trial of their fortitude,
Making them each his own Deliver,
And Victor over all
That tyranny or fortune can inflict.
‘Fog’ by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Free Verse Poem by Robert Graves
I now delight
Of the might
And the right
Of classic tradition,
Without let or omission,
Just any little rhyme
In any little time
That runs in my head;
Because, I’ve said,
My rhymes no longer shall stand arrayed
Like Prussian soldiers on parade
Stiff as starch,
Foot to foot,
Boot to boot,
Blade to blade,
Button to button,
Cheeks and chops and chins like mutton.