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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Blank Verse Versus Free Verse

Have you ever met a person who reminds you of someone else? The two may look alike or express themselves with similar gestures, but after you get to know them, you might see they’re not alike at all. The primary characteristic you first noticed may be the only one they share. That's how it is with blank verse versus free. People often confuse the two, thinking they’re the same although they have little in common – with one big exception:

Neither blank verse nor free verse has regular end-line rhyme.

The following might help to clarify:

• Free Verse is free of all preconceived patterns or fixed forms. 

Free verse often has no rhymes whatsoever, but it’s just as likely to have true and/or slant rhymes tucked less conspicuously into its lines. Notice, for example, the true rhyming pair receive/believe in the poem “After Shock” and the slant rhymes thicket/wet and guarding/Garden. If you read aloud the poem (derived from the biblical book of Genesis), you’ll also hear sound echoes of resonating vowels and repeated consonants.

After Shock

When we awoke, we found ourselves
in a thicket of trees, the man called a forest –
our eyes too wet to see.

The boys had disappeared,
most likely exploring,
but the flaming torches
guarding the Garden had long
been leafed from sight.

Is this called sorrow?

Are we banished from God


Oh, why did we agree to receive
more than our Maker had made?

How could we believe that sliver
of truth in a slithering serpent?

by MaryHarwell Sayler from poetry book, Lost in Faith, ©2017

Free verse follows its own unique shape. It has the freedom to freely use or not use rhyme, rhythm, or meter – unless any of those features falls into a regular pattern.

Metaphorically speaking, free verse is a stream flowing freely within interesting, irregular, and sometimes surprising boundaries. Conversely:

• Blank Verse is rhythmic poetry blank of end-line rhymes.

In blank verse, the lines do not end in rhyming pairs even though the form is “traditional verse,” which usually does have a rhyming pattern. However, blank verse most often follows tradition with a sonnet structure of 14 rhythmic lines.

Figuratively speaking, blank verse is like a drinking glass used for tiny sips of water but appropriate for large gulps too. In classical English literature,  blank verse has occasionally been the medium for epic poems or plays, generally confining itself to metered verse set in iambic pentameter such as loosely shown here in sonnet length:

Blank Verse on a Blackboard

School children leaning over the flat world
of their desks symbolize tomorrow. How
will the chin lift, the back straighten, the eyes
refocus in time to come around in time
for the circle’s revolution from straight line
into that ongoing entity of spin and spin? 

We sat still once to become conversant
in the past’s apparent presence in pyramids, 
ancient cultures, and Babel's complex
structure – tortuous and convoluted, like
fault lines in the earth where quakes occur
below a city built to outlast blasts of when.

Who knows what we can learn from turning
pages – poured over, revised, and read again?

by MaryHarwell Sayler from the poetry book, Faces in a Crowd, ©2016

As you experiment with blank verse and free verse writing, you might discover you want the predictable, reserved blank verse for everyday company, while enjoying the spontaneity of free verse to help your writing flow, freely, into new terrain.

Note: The above post primarily came from the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry e-book. For more information about blank verse and free verse, you can also type the topic of your choice into the Search box on this blog page to find related discussions.