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Blank Verse

Blank verse is a type of poetry that has a regular meter, but no rhyme scheme. Some examples of blank verse poems include 'Fra Lippo Lippi' (1855) by Robert Browning and 'The Second Coming' (1920) by W.B Yeats. Blank verse is closely associated with free verse. However, the latter has no meter.

Blank verse: definition

What is blank verse?

Blank verse - This is a type of poem that is written with a meter but has no rhyme scheme. The meter of a blank verse poem is typically iambic pentameter.

Blank verse is a frequently used form of poetry. It was used widely by poets such as William Shakespeare and John Milton. These poets used blank verse for long, narrative-based poems, which commonly featured a dramatic monologue. Since the 1600s, blank verse has remained a popular form of poetry and was used by poets such as Robert Frost and W.B Yeats during the 20th century.

Blank verse: characteristics

There are two defining characteristics of blank verse. These are its meter and rhyme scheme.

Meter

Iambic pentameter - This is a type of meter that is comprised of five iambs, consisting of one unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable.

One of the defining features of blank verse is that it has a regular meter. This means that there will be a consistent number of syllables in each line of the poem. A regular meter is used here as blank verse poems are usually longer narrative poems.

There is no set meter for blank verse, however, most of these poems use iambic pentameter. An iambic pentameter is a popular form of meter as it replicates the natural speech patterns of English. An example of iambic pentameter being used in a blank verse poem is found in 'Fra Lippo Lippi' (1855) by Robert Browning. This poem is a dramatic monologue that uses blank verse and iambic pentameter to make it easier to read.

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what's to blame? you think you see a monk!

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme of a poem has a significant impact on the interpretation of its meaning.

Rhyme scheme - The pattern of rhyming words at the end lines of poems.

A key trait of blank verse is that there is no rhyme scheme. This means that the end words of each line will not sound alike. The absence of a rhyme scheme means that poets have the most choice in what vocabulary they can use in their poems.

A key way to tell the difference between blank verse and poems written in iambic pentameter is to look for a rhyme scheme. For example, William Shakespeare's poem 'Sonnet 18' (1609) is not written in blank verse, as although it has a consistent meter, there is also a rhyme scheme in the poem. An example of blank verse that uses no rhyme scheme can be seen in 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' (1798) by William Wordsworth.

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.—

Blank verse: examples and poems

Now that we understand the two key characteristics of blank verse, let's look at some examples of this form.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Robert Frost's poem 'Mending Wall' (1914) is a widely known example of blank verse. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, as evident by the 5 iambs in each line. There is also no rhyme scheme. Frost uses the blank verse in this poem to mimic the structure of a wall. Blank verse allows the poem to be written without stanza breaks, and so if the poem is tipped on its side, it resembles the shape of a wall.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

William Butler Yeats uses the blank verse in the poem 'The Second Coming' (1920). The poem discusses themes of religion and violence as well as Irish history. Yeats uses iambic pentameter in this poem, though at times a line will contain 13 syllables instead of 10. It is thought that Yeats chooses to occasionally deviate from the meter to reflect the fearful tone of uncertainty in the poem.

Blank verse vs free verse

Another major form of poetry is free verse. There are some similarities between blank and free verse but other key differences.

Free verse - A poem with no rhyme scheme or regular meter.

Free verse poetry lacks any consistent rhyme scheme or regular meter. This allows poets a lot of freedom as they are not tied to a structure. Free verse has become increasingly popular over the years, in part due to the success of Walt Whitman's poetry collection Leaves of Grass (1855) as well as through the work of Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot. An example of a free-verse poem from the 20th century is 'Two-Headed Calf' (1977) by Laura Gilpin.

Tomorrow when the farm boys find thisfreak of nature, they will wrap his bodyin newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the northfield with his mother. It is a perfectsummer evening: the moon rising overthe orchard, the wind in the grass. Andas he stares into the sky, there aretwice as many stars as usual.

The table below displays the key differences between the two types of verse,

Blank VerseFree Verse
Rhyme SchemeNoNo
MeterYes - typically iambic pentameterNo

Blank verse: effects

Blank verse is an effective form of poetry as its meter reflects natural speech patterns. This means that it is easy to understand for readers. Due to this ease, blank verse is especially effective for longer poems. The lack of rhyme scheme is also effective for poets. This is because no rhyme scheme means that poets are not married to a particular set of words. This gives poets more options and thus allows them to be more innovative.

Blank Verse - Key takeaways

  • Blank verse is a poem with a regular meter and no rhyme scheme.
  • There is no set meter; however, iambic pentameter is used commonly.
  • It has been a popular form of poetry since the 1600s.
  • Blank verse is typically used for longer, narrative poems.
  • Free verse differs from blank verse as it has no rhyme scheme or meter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Blank Verse

Blank verse is a type of poem that is written with a meter but has no rhyme scheme. The meter of a blank verse poem is typically iambic pentameter. 

An example of blank verse in poetry is 'Mending Wall' (1914) by Robert Frost. 

To identify a blank verse poem, look at the rhyme scheme and the meter. If there is a regular meter, but no rhyme scheme, the poem is written in blank verse. 

In a free verse poem, there is no rhyme scheme nor regular meter. This is different to blank verse, where there is a regular meter. 

To write a poem in blank verse, first, choose a meter - many blank verse poems use iambic pentameter. Once this is decided, write your poem without any rhyme scheme. 

Final Blank Verse Quiz

Question

True or false: Blank verse is always written in iambic pentameter.

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Answer

False. Most of the time blank verse is written in iambic pentameter, but not always. Poetry must be unrhymed and metered to qualify as blank verse. 



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Question

 True or false: Penta means ten in Latin.

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Answer

False. Penta means five in Latin.

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Question

 How many feet are there in line of iambic pentameter?


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Answer

There are five feet in a line of iambic pentameter.


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Question

What constitutes an iambic foot? 


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Answer

A foot, in poetic terms, is a repeated sequence of meters. Therefore, an iambic foot is made up of two syllables: unstressed followed by stressed.

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Question

 What rhythm has been used to describe iambic pentameter?


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Answer

Iambic pentamter is described as having a heartbeat rhythm: de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM de / DUM. 

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Question

Which poet believed rhyme does not show literary talent? 

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Answer

Scholars believe Milton thought it does not take much literary talent to think of words that rhyme, it is such more of a skill to write in meter. He declares writing in rhyme is restrictive and limits the ideas you can explore as a writer.



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Question

Why does Shakespeare use caesura in his blank verse writing?


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Answer

Shakespeare employs caesura and enjambment to make the text seem more realistic and conversational, as we naturally pause when we speak. 

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Question

How does blank verse reinforce the meaning of Wordsworth's 'The Prelude'?


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Answer

The blank verse form supports Wordsworth in his journey between his childhood and adult self, as he ponders his past in relation to his future. We see him switching between his present and previous consciousness. The blank verse makes it easier to dip in and out of memories as there are few rules to follow, yet it remains impressive that he is able to write such an intricate narrative in regular meter. 



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Question

Why does Shakespeare use enjambment in his blank verse?


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Answer

Shakespeare uses enjambment to ensure the lines have the correct number of syllables long to fit iambic pentameter. For example, if the lines 'Our fears in Banquo stick deep, // And in his royalty of nature reigns that' was one long line, it would be longer than ten syllables and no longer classes as iambic pentameter.

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Question

How does iambic pentameter make 'My Last Duchess' by Rober Browning seem more sinister? 

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Answer

The upbeat rhythm of the poem (written in iambic pentameter) makes it slightly more sinister as it gives it a musical poetic feeling, which feels out of place given he is talking about how he killed his wife. 

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Question

True or false: Blank verse is popular among poets as it enables them to have the freedom of expression whilst maintaining a poetic rhythm following iambic pentameter or a similar metrical pattern.


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Answer

True. Blank verse is popular among poets as it enables them to have the freedom of expression whilst maintaining a poetic rhythm following iambic pentameter or a similar metrical pattern.

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Question

How does blank verse enhance Frost's poem 'The Death of the Hired Man'?


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Answer

If Frost was to explain the events in prose it would sound mundane, but the iambic pentameter gives it a poetic rhythm which makes it more interesting to read as he is able to embody the characters' emotions in the form. Their anticipation around discovering Silas is back is reflected in the frequent switch between lines broken up by caesura, and others left free-flowing with enjambment. 

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Question

How can blank verse represent character status?


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Answer

Blank verse can also represent high social status as it indicates certain characters are educated enough to speak following a certain rhythm without using rhyme.

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What is the difference between blank verse and free verse?


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Answer

Whilst blank verse and free verse are not restricted by rhyme, they are different in the fact that blank verse follows a metrical pattern, whereas free verse does not.

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Question

Why does blank verse often contain caesura and enjambment?


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Answer

Blank verse often contains enjambment and caesura to stop it from sounding monotonous.

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