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Blank Verse
[Page 2]

In the seventeenth century, John Milton altered the associations of blank verse by making it the form of Paradise Lost, his great epic poem. Milton took care to justify his unconventional use of the form, citing precedents from the epic tradition in this engagingly vehement attack on rhyme:
THE Measure is English Heroic Verse without 
Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Virgil 
in Latin; Rhime being no necessary Adjunct 
or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in 
longer Works especially, but the  Invention 
of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched 
matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since 
by the use of some famous modern Poets,  
carried away by Custom, but much to thir 
own vexation, hindrance, and  constraint to 
express many things otherwise, and for the 
most part worse then else they would have 
exprest them. Not without cause therefore 
some both Italian, and Spanish Poets of 
prime note have  rejected Rhime both in 
longer and shorter Works, as have also long  
since our best English Tragedies, as a thing 
of itself, to all judicious ears, triveal, 
and of no true musical delight; which  
consists onely in apt Numbers, fit quantity 
of Syllables, and the sense variously drawn 
out from one Verse into another, not in the  
jingling sound of like endings, a fault 
avoyded by the learned Ancients both in 
Poetry and all good Oratory. This neglect 
then of Rhime so little is to be taken 
for a defect, though it may seem so  
perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather 
is to be esteem'd an example set, the first 
in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to  
heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern 
bondage of Rimeing.

Later writers re-established the conventional use of blank verse as a mode for representing sincere, conversational sentiments. At the end of the next century, for instance, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads. (See the ballad section for commentary on the ballads included in that collection.) The poems in Lyrical Ballads use a variety of forms to portray speech from different historical periods and narrators. When the poets wanted to present sincere meditations in his own "voice," however, they generally employed blank verse. Here, for instance, are the opening lines of "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey . . . ," the poem that ended the first edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1798:

Five years have past; five summers, with the length 

Of five long winters! and again I hear 

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs 

With a soft inland murmur.--Once again 

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, 

That on a wild secluded scene impress 

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect 

The landscape with the quiet of the sky. 

The day is come when I again repose 

Here, under this dark sycamore, and view 

These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts, 

Which at this season, with their unripe fruits, 

Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves 

'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see 

These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines 

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms, 

Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke 

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees! 

With some uncertain notice, as might seem 

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, 

Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire 

The Hermit sits alone. 

Coleridge also wrote a series of "conversation poems," as he called them, which used easy, flowing blank verse to construct meditations arising from everyday situations. See, for instance, "Frost at Midnight."

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