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What is Free Verse Poetry? Definition and Examples from Famous Poems

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Free verse is a poem which has no rhyme, meter, or other traditional poetry technique. Nonetheless, these may still be used to create some sort of poetic structure. Because of lack of predetermined form, free verse may take on unique shapes and characteristics.

Essentially, free verse allows poets to take control of the poem. The poet is allowed more control over expression, meters, rhythm, rhymes, and other poetic techniques. This can allow for more spontaniaty and individualization.

Short definition: a poem which refrains from using a rhyme, meter, or other musical patterns.

Read about other poetry types.

Early free verse examples

Free verse has been around for hundreds of years; however, the form didn't gain prominence until the early 1900s after the publication of A Lecture on Modern Poetry by critic T. E. Hulme.

The Light Keeper

The brilliant kernel of the night,
The flaming lightroom circles me:
I sit within a blaze of light

Held high above the dusky sea.
Far off the surf doth break and roar
Along bleak miles of moonlit shore,

Where through the tides the tumbling wave
Falls in an avalanche of foam
And drives its churned waters home
Up many an undercliff and cave. 

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Discharged

CARRY me out
Into the wind and the sunshine,
Into the beautiful world.

O, the wonder, the spell of the streets
The stature and strength of the horses
The rustle and echo of footfalls,
The flat roar and rattle of wheels!
A swift tram floats huge on us . . .
It's a dream?
The smell of the mud in my nostrils
Blows brave - like a breath of the sea!

As of old,
Ambulant, undulant drapery,
                                  Vaguely and strangely provocative,
Flutters and beckons. O, yonder - 
Is it? - the gleam of a stocking!
Sudden, a spire

Wedged in the mist! O, the houses,
The long lines of lofty, grey houses,
Cross-hatched with shadow and light!
These are the streets....
Each is an avenue leading
Whither I will!

Free ...!
Dizzy, hysterical, faint,
I sit, and the carriage rolls on with me
Into the wonderful world.

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Famous modern free verse poems

During the modern era, there have been many free verse poems written. Here are a few short examples.

Little Father

I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
every night.

I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
my little root who won't drink milk,
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
little father I ransom with my life.

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Messy Room

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

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Quotes about writing in free verse

playing tennis without a net.
Robert Frost


the form of free verse is as binding and as liberating as the form of a rondeau,
Donald Hall


No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.
T. S. Eliot

Other famous free verse poems

Mending Wall by Robert Frost
Buffalo Bill by E.E. Cummings
Fog by Carl Sandburg
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman