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Free and Quantitative Verse
[Page 3]

The last two systems move out of the accentual and syllabic frameworks altogether.

  • Free verse is by far the more important of these two for poetry in English. The name "free verse" comes from the French vers libre; poets writing in English and French developed the theory and practice of free verse from the 1880s to the early decades of the twentieth century. Free verse follows no single pattern of stresses, syllables, or line length, but as poets and critics frequently protest, that lack of pattern does not imply that the verse has broken "free" of convention entirely. Early writers of free verse, such as Walt Whitman, knew the conventions of metrical verse inside and out, and the best free verse generally exhibits the same kind of understanding. That is to say, free verse does not abandon the rhythms of metered verse entirely; it rather uses them to create a wide range of effects, adapting and playing with the poet's traditional tools. For that reason, many writers have attempted to introduce new names for free verse, but "free verse" has so much historical momentum that it will not easily yield its place.

  • The last system, quantitative verse, governs Greek and Latin verse. Although some writers have attempted to transfer the principles of quantitative verse to poetry in English, their efforts have generally proven the extreme difficulty or impossibility of doing so successfully. Therefore, to learn more about the details of quantitative verse, you should consult sources concerned primarily with Greek and Latin poetry.
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