Blank verseispoetry with a consistent meterbut no formal rhyme scheme.Unlike free verse, blank verse has a measuredbeat. In English, the beat is usually iambic pentameter, but other metrical patterns can be used.From William Shakespeare to Robert Frost, many of the greatest writers in the English language embraced the blank verse form.
- Blank verse: Poetry that has aconsistent meter but no formal rhyme scheme.
- Meter: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.
- Free verse: Poetry that does not have a rhyme scheme or a consistent metrical pattern.
How to Identify a Blank Verse Poem
The basic building block for a blank verse poem is a two-syllable unit called an iamb. Like the ba-BUM of a heartbeat, the syllables alternate between short ("unstressed") and long ("stressed"). Most blank verse in English isiambic pentameter: five iambs (ten syllables) per line. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) used iambic pentameter in his classic poem,“Lines Composed a FewMiles Above Tintern Abbey." Notice the rhythm created by the pattern ofstressed/unstressed syllables in this selection:
Do I beholdthese steepand lofty cliffs
However, Wordsworth didn't write the poem entirely in iambics.Poets sometimes slip in different meters likespondeesordactylsto soften the beat and add a sense of surprise. These variations can make a blank verse poem hard to recognize. To add to the challenge, word pronunciations change with local dialects: Not all readers hear exactly the same beat.
To distinguish blank verse from free verse, begin by reading the poem aloud. Count the syllables in each line and mark the syllables that have a stronger emphasis. Look for an overall pattern in the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables. Blank verse will show some evidence that the poet has measured the lines to achieve a more or less consistent beat throughout the poem.
Origins of Blank Verse
English didn't always sound iambic, and the earliest literature from England didn't use orderly patterns of accented syllables. Beowulf (ca. 1000) and other works written inOld Englishrelied onalliterationrather than meter for dramatic effect.
Systematic metrical patterns entered the literary scene during the age of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), who wrote inMiddle English. Iambic rhythms echo through Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. However, in keeping with the convention of the day, many of the tales are composed of rhyming couplets. Every two lines rhyme.
The idea of writing metered verse without a formal rhyme scheme didn't emerge until the Renaissance. Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478-1550), Giovanni di Bernardo Rucellai (1475-1525),and other Italian writers began to imitate unrhymed poetry from ancient Greece and Rome. The Italians called their works versi sciolti.The French also wrote unrhymed verse, which they calledvers blanc.
Nobleman and poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, pioneered English blank verse in the 1550s when he translated the second and fourth books of Virgil's The Aeneid from Latin.A few years later, Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville producedThe Tragedieof Gorboduc(1561), a play composed ofvery little rhyme and strong iambic pentameter:
Meter was an important tool for dramatizing memorable stories during a time when most people couldn't read. But there was a tedious sameness to the iambic beat inThe Tragedie of Gorboducand other early blank verse. Playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) energized the form by using dialog, enjambment, and other rhetorical devices. His play The Tragical History of Dr. Faustuscombined colloquial speech with lyrical language, rich assonance, alliteration, and references to Classical literature. Published in 1604, the play containsMarlowe's often-quoted lines:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies!
Marlowe's contemporaryWilliam Shakespeare(1564-1616)developed a range of techniques to disguise the tick-tock rhythm of iambic pentameter. In hisfamous soliloquy from Hamlet, some lines contain eleven syllables instead of ten. Many lines end with asofter ("feminine") unstressed syllable.Colons, question marks, and other sentence endings create rhythmical pauses (known as caesura) midway through lines. Try to identify the stressed syllables in these lines from Hamlet's soliloquy:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep...
The Rise of Blank Verse Poetry
During the age of Shakespeare and Marlowe, English blank verse belonged mainly to the realm of the theater. Shakespeare's sonnetsfollowed conventional rhyme schemes. In the mid-1600s, however, John Milton(1608–1674) rejected rhyme as "but the invention of a barbarous age"and promoted the use of blank verse for nondramatic works. His epic poemParadise Lostcontains10,000 lines in iambic pentameter.To preserve the rhythm, Milton shortened words, eliminating syllables. Notice the abbreviation of "wandering" in his description of Adam and Eve leaving paradise:
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
Blank verse fell from favor after Milton died, butin the late 1700s a new generation of poets explored ways to integrate natural speech with musicality. Blank verse offered more possibilities than verse with formal rhyme schemes. Poets could write stanzas in any length, some long, some short. Poets couldfollow the flow of ideas and use no stanza breaks at all. Flexible and adaptable, blank verse became the standard for poetry written in the English language.
Other masterpieces of blank verse poetry include "Frost at Midnight"(1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge,"Hyperion" (1820) by John Keats,and "The Second Coming"(1919) by W.B. Yeats.
Modern Examples of Blank Verse
Modernism brought revolutionary approaches to writing. Most 20thcentury poets turned to free verse. Formalists who still wrote in blank verse experimented with new rhythms, fragmented lines, enjambment, and colloquial vocabulary.
“Home Burial” by Robert Frost(1874-1963)is a narrative with dialog, interruptions, and outcries. Although most of the lines are iambic, Frost shattered the meter midway through the poem. The indented words "Don't, don't, don't, don't" are equally stressed.
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’
‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs...
Robert Graves(1895-1985)used similar strategies forWelsh Incident.The whimsicalpoem isa dialog between two speakers. With casual language and ragged lines, the poem resembles free verse. Yet the lines lilt with iambic meter:
‘But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.’
‘What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?’
‘Nothing at all of any things like that.’
‘What were they, then?’
‘All sorts of queer things...
Blank Verse and Hip-Hop
Rap musicby hip-hop artists draws from African folk songs, jazz, and blues. The lyrics are filledwithrhyme and near-rhyme.There are no set rules for line lengths or metrical patterns. In contrast,blank verse emerged from European literary traditions. While the meter can vary, there's an overall regularity to the beat. Moreover, blank versepoems rarely use end rhymes.
Nevertheless, blank verse and rap music share the same iambic rhythms. TheHip-Hop Shakespeare Groupperforms rap versions of Shakespeare plays. Hip-hop musicianJay-Z celebrates the poetic qualities of rap music in his memoir and lyric collection,Decoded(view on Amazon).
Comparethe line by Wordsworth quoted at the top of this page withthis line from Jay-Z's rap song, "Coming of Age":
Rap music is not written exclusively in blank verse, but teachers often include hip-hop in the curriculum to illustrate the continued relevance of Shakespeare and other writers from the blank verse tradition.
- The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company.http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com/
- McWhorter, John. "Americans Have Never Loved Poetry More—But They Call It Rap." Daily Beast. 29 June 2014. https://www.thedailybeast.com/americans-have-never-loved-poetry-morebut-they-call-it-rap.
- Richards-Gustafson, Flora. "Steps for Identifying the Types of Meter in Poetry."http://education.seattlepi.com/steps-identifying-types-meter-poetry-5039.html.
- Shaw, Robert B. Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use.Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2007
- Smith, Nadine. "How to Write Blank Verse in the Iambic Pentameter."https://penandthepad.com/write-blank-verse-iambic-pentameter-8312397.html.
- University of Northern Iowa. "Blank Verse."Craft of Poetry, a Fall 2001 course taught by Vince Gotera.https://uni.edu/~gotera/CraftOfPoetry/blankverse.html.
What is a blank verse answer? ›
“Blank verse” is a literary term that refers to poetry written in unrhymed but metered lines, almost always iambic pentameter.What is an example for blank verse? ›
These lines from Hamlet are written in blank verse (note the lack of rhyme and the consistent meter of unstressed/stressed syllables): "It is not nor it cannot come to good, / But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue."What does blank verse mean in Romeo and Juliet? ›
Poetry that does not rhyme is referred to as blank verse. The great majority of the dialogue in Shakespeare's plays is written in blank verse.What is the use of blank verse in Paradise Lost Book 1? ›
Paradise Lost is written in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. This style lends structure and precision to the verse—providing exactly ten syllables per line—while also allowing Milton to experiment with his verse, without the constraints of rhyme.How do you identify a blank verse? ›
Blank verse is poetry with a consistent meter but no formal rhyme scheme. Unlike free verse, blank verse has a measured beat. In English, the beat is usually iambic pentameter, but other metrical patterns can be used.What is the structure of blank verse? ›
Blank Verse is a poetic form which doesn't rhyme but instead a rhythmic pattern marks it out. Blank Verse is written in Iambic Pentameter meaning that each line has 10 syllables with a stress on syllables 2,4,6,8 and 10.How do you write a good blank verse? ›
- Headless Iamb or Tailess Trochee- one stressed syllable. ...
- Spondee- two stressed syllables, as in "hot dog"
- Amphibrach- three syllables, unstressed-stressed-unstressed, as in "forgetful"
Though iambic pentameter with its five beats of di-dum is most prevalent in blank verse poems, other forms include trochee with a dum-di pattern, anapest with a di-di-dum pattern, and dactyl with a dum-di-di pattern. Any combination of these rhythm patterns or variations upon them can be used in blank verse.Who speaks in blank verse? ›
A character who speaks in verse is a noble or a member of the upper class. Most of Shakespeare's plays focused on these characters. The verse form he uses is blank verse. It contains no rhyme, but each line has an internal rhythm with a regular rhythmic pattern.What is an example of blank verse in Romeo and Juliet Act 2? ›
The poetry in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is written in blank verse, poetry which is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter includes five iambic units in each line. An example of this can be seen in Romeo's soliloquy at the beginning of Act II Scene 2, also known as the balcony scene.
Who speaks in blank verse in Romeo and Juliet? ›
Like other plays by Shakespeare, the dialogue in Romeo and Juliet is presented mainly in blank verse Blank verse is a type of poetry that does not usually rhyme, but which has a clear pattern of ten syllables in each line.What is blank verse in Shakespeare's plays? ›
Blank verse, the basic pattern of language in Shakespeare's plays, is (in its regular form) a verse line of ten syllables with five stresses and no rhyme (hence "blank"). It was first used in England by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey* in his translation of the Æneid (c. 1554).What is the blank verse style in Paradise Lost? ›
The poem is written in blank verse, or lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter, and is over 10,000 lines long. Milton had become blind by the time he composed much of this poem and so dictated it to different scribes including his daughter, Deborah.How Milton use blank verse in Paradise Lost? ›
In the “Note on the Verse” that he attached to Paradise Lost, Milton asks that his blank verse be “esteem'd [as] an example set, the first in English, of ancient Liberty recover'd to Heroic Poem from the troublesome and modern Bondage of Riming.”1 Milton derived his blank verse not only from English models but also ...What is the main theme of the poem Paradise Lost book 1? ›
Answer and Explanation: The theme of Book I of Paradise Lost is resolution and perseverance in the face of overwhelming defeat.What are two features of blank verse? ›
Features of blank verse
Lines: Blank verse poems can contain any number of lines. Rhyme Scheme: Poems written in blank verse do not follow a rhyme scheme. Iambic Pentameter: Iambic pentameter is a line of verse containing five metric feet, each of which has one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable.
Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter. Poems written in blank verse have lines that do not rhyme. Iambic pentameter refers to the foot and meter of the line. An iamb is a foot, or a pattern of syllables, that stands for one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.What effect does blank verse have? ›
Many poets choose to use blank verse as it gives them more creative freedom than rhyme. Blank verse has no fixed number of lines and poets don't have to follow a rhyme scheme. However, as blank verse almost always makes use of Iambic Pentameter, blank verse poems still benefit from a poetic sound and rhythmic pattern.Does blank verse have a pattern? ›
Blank verse is bound by a metrical pattern—almost always iambic pentameter. It has been an immensely popular form for English language poetry for centuries, spanning from Shakespeare and Milton to Eliot and Frost.Who introduced blank verse? ›
The first known use of blank verse in English was by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in his translation of the Aeneid (composed c. 1540; published posthumously, 1554–1557).
What are the parts of a verse called? ›
A stanza is a series of lines grouped together in order to divide a poem; the structure of a stanza is often (though not always) repeated throughout the poem. Stanzas are separated from other stanzas by line breaks.How do you start a free verse poem? ›
- Choose your subject and write about it. ...
- Check your rough poem to see if anything is missing. ...
- Read the rough poem aloud. ...
- Move through your poem with an editor's pen and make sure you've selected the words that give proper accent and cadence to the overall poem.
Typically in Shakespeare, blank verse is used to indicate the status of a character, as usually only higher status characters will speak in blank verse, while lower status characters speak in prose.What is another name for blank verse? ›
|iambic pentameter||dactylic hexameter|
Both blank verse and free verse are free from rhyme scheme. But, whereas blank verse does have a consistent meter, usually iambic pentameter, that creates a du-DUM rhythm effect, free verse is free from both meter and rhyme. It is free from the limitations of verse poetry.What is the origin of blank verse? ›
Adapted from unrhymed Greek and Latin heroic verse, blank verse was introduced in 16th-century Italy along with other classical metres. The Italian humanist Francesco Maria Molza attempted the writing of consecutive unrhymed verse in 1514 in his translation of Virgil's Aeneid.Who writes in free verse? ›
Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of nonmetrical poetry in the 19th century. Since the early 20th century, the majority of published lyric poetry has been written in free verse. See the work of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H.D. Browse more free-verse poems.Who wrote in free verse? ›
Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens all wrote some variety of free verse; the versification of Williams and Moore most closely resembles that of the vers libre poets of France.What is a verse in a poem? ›
What is a Verse? A Verse is a collection of metrical lines of poetry. It is used to define the difference of poetry and prose. It contains rhythm and pattern and more often than not, rhyme.What is a blank verse quizlet? ›
Blank Verse. A poem without rhyme, but does have iambic pentameter. Metrical Foot. A single unit of measurement that is repeated within a line of poetry.
What is free verse vs blank verse? ›
Both blank verse and free verse are free from rhyme scheme. But, whereas blank verse does have a consistent meter, usually iambic pentameter, that creates a du-DUM rhythm effect, free verse is free from both meter and rhyme. It is free from the limitations of verse poetry.How many feet does blank verse have? ›
A blank verse is a poem with no rhyme, but does have iambic pentameter. This means it consists of lines of five feet, each foot being iambic, meaning two syllables long, one unstressed followed by a stressed syllable.Does blank verse have rules? ›
Blank verse poetry is written in regular cadences but does not rhyme. Typically, it is written with ten syllables per line and an unstressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable. This pattern continues five times per line. This style is also known as un-rhymed iambic pentameter.What do you call a poem that doesn't rhyme? ›
Free verse poetry is poetry that lacks a consistent rhyme scheme, metrical pattern, or musical form.What is the difference between rhyme and blank verse? ›
Free verse refers to an open form of poetry that has no rhyme or rhythm. The main difference between blank verse and free verse is that free verse is not written in consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern whereas blank verse is written in regular metrical patterns.Is blank verse prose or poetry? ›
Blank Verse refers to unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse resembles prose in that the final words of the lines do not rhyme in any regular pattern (although an occasional rhyming couplet may be found).Why is blank verse used? ›
Blank Verse is any verse comprised of unrhymed lines all in the same meter, usually iambic pentameter. It was developed in Italy and became widely used during the Renaissance because it resembled classical, unrhymed poetry.Who created blank verse? ›
The first known use of blank verse in English was by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in his translation of the Aeneid (composed c. 1540; published posthumously, 1554–1557).What is the history of blank verse? ›
Blank verse first appeared in sixteenth-century Italy during the Renaissance, an adaptation of unrhymed poetry from ancient Greece and Rome. It was later introduced to England in the 1550s by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey with his translation of Virgil's The Aeneid.Is Romeo and Juliet written in blank verse? ›
Like all of Shakespeare's tragedies, Romeo and Juliet is written mostly in blank verse. Shakespeare preferred to use verse when he was tackling serious themes, like the themes in Romeo and Juliet of doomed love, feuding, suicide, and death.