The HyperTexts

Free Verse Timeline
Free Verse Chronology
Free Verse History

This is a timeline of the evolution of English free verse poetry. To make it easier to find events that relate directly and specifically to free verse, the years and events are bolded. Different periods are underlined.

compiled by Michael R. Burch

The Phases of English Poetry, with a Focus on Free Verse

5600 BC — Rising seas separate England from the European mainland; one consequence is that the natives' language begins to evolve separately from (and quite differently to) its continental peers ...
1268 BC — This is Robert Graves' date for early Celtic poems like the Song of Amergin, but dating such orally-transmitted works of the Prehistoric Period (?-55 BC) is a highly speculative endeavor!
55 BC — Julius Caesar invades England beginning the Anglo-Roman Period (55 BC-410 AD), in which Latin is the primary language of the rulers, clergy and scholars. Native poetry remains oral.
410 AD — Rome is sacked by Visigoths and the Roman legions no longer occupy and defend England. Germanic tribes soon invade. Thus begins the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (410-1066).
658 — Caedmon's Hymn, the oldest authenticated English poem, marks the beginning of English poetry (although it was Anglo-Saxon and thus heavily Germanic at the time).
950 — The Exeter Book contains the first English poems likely written by women, Wulf and Eadwacer and The Wife's Lament, along with Anglo-Saxon riddles/kennings and an early rhyming poem.
1066 — William the Conqueror wins the Battle of Hastings; this Norman Conquest of England begins the Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1340). Elites prefer French and Latin to English.
1154 — The Plantagenet Period (1154-1485); because the Plantagenets were still French Normans, we will mark our next period by a different kind of coronation, in 1340 ...
1340 — Birth of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first major poet to write in vernacular English. Thus begins the Late Middle English Period (1340-1503). Poets of note include John Skelton and William Dunbar.
1350 — There is an Alliterative Revival, led by the Gawain/Pearl poet; important poems of this genre include Piers Plowman, Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience and Cleanness.
1380 — English free verse begins―not with the King James Bible―but with John Wycliffe's earlier translation of the Psalms. Chaucer's House of Fame mentions "freer" verse.
1485 — The Tudor Period (1457-1603) ends the Middle Ages; Henry VII has a court where the English language rules over French, finally!
1492 — Just as the English language finally claims primacy, Columbus discovers America. Coincidence, or fate?
1503 — Birth of Thomas Wyatt; he and Henry Howard introduce the sonnet, iambic pentameter and blank verse, beginning the English Renaissance (1503-1558).
1516 — Birth of  Henry Howard, the Early of Surrey; he was the primary inventor of English blank verse, a precursor of English free verse adopted by Shakespeare.
1532 — The English Reformation Period (1532-1649) was more religious and political than poetic, but John Milton was a major voice for reform while Cavalier poets supported the monarchy.
1532 — Birth of Edmund Spenser; he would single-handedly create the modern English style of poetry: "fluid," "limpid," "translucent" and "graceful," while introducing humanism.
1558 — The Elizabethan Period (1558-1603) was incredibly fertile, with major works by Spenser, Walter Ralegh, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.
1572 — Birth of John Donne, the first and most prominent of the Metaphysical school of poets (1572-1695), which included George Herbert, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughn.
1591 — Birth of Robert Herrick, first of the Cavalier school (1591-1674) which included Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling and Thomas Carew. They were the "tribe of Ben [Jonson]."
1603 — The
Jacobean/Caroline/Interregnum/Restoration Period (1603-1690) introduces the King James Bible with free verse translations of the Psalms and Song of Solomon.
1620 — The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower.
1656 — Abraham Cowley's Pindarique Odes, published in 1656, have been called free verse.
1671 — John Milton's Samson Agonistes, published in 1671, has been cited as free verse with its varying line lengths and irregular rhymes.

1690 — The Augustan Period (1690-1756) is marked by the sophisticated, witty work of poets like Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Swift. (But it seems like a dry spell today.)
1757 — Birth of William Blake, the first major poet of the English Romantic Period (1757-1837); others include Robert Burns, Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.
1759 — Christopher Smart writes a long free verse poem, "Jubliate Agno," which was probably inspired by and/or modeled after biblical free verse, around 1759-1763.
1790 — Alicia Ostriker has claimed that William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, composed around 1790-3, is the earliest example of English free verse.

1836 — Ralph Waldo Emerson is a founder of the Transcendental Club, which includes Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott.
1837 — The Victorian Period (1837-1901) is marked by the work of Lord Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Clare, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
1848 — The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1882) is founded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and two other artists; aligned poets include Christina Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
1855 — Walt Whitman self-publishes
Leaves of Grass, a landmark work of early Modernism and free verse (1855-1901) that rocks the Victorians to their whalebone corsets!
1867 — Matthew Arnold's
Dover Beach has been called a masterpiece of Early Modernism; it employs irregular rhyme and form and exhibits crises of faith in both God and man.
1890 — Fin-de-siècle (1890-1900) poets who took notes from the French symbolists include William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Swinburne.
1901 — The Edwardian/Georgian Period (1901-1936) is brief but fecund, with Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas and Walter de la Mare.
1909 — Two poems by T. E Hulme are considered to be the beginning of the modernist movement called Imagism (1909-1919); its leading poets would be Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
1914 — Ezra Pound became dissatisfied with the work of Imagists like Amy Lowell, and founded a new movement called Vorticism (1913-1918), but it did not take off with the public.
1917 — What we now call Modernism may have dawned around 1917 with the publication of T. S. Eliot's Prufrock and Other Observations.
1950 — Charles Olson called Pound and other Imagists "inferior predecessors" and created a new school of poetry, Projectivism (1950-1950), which, alas, also did not take off!
1901 — The leading voices of Modernism and Postmodernism (1901-Present) include poets such as William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilfred Owen, e. e. cummings, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney. We would also include outstanding singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Woody Guthrie, Michael Jackson, Carole King, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Prince, Smokey Robinson, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams Sr. Of course there are many other worthy names―too many to mention them all here. So anyone who says that poetry is "dead" or "dying" is obviously just not listening! Phases and schools of poetry in modern times include Imagism (Pound, Eliot), Vorticism (Pound), Projectivism (Olson), Cubism (cummings), Confessionalism (Lowell, Plath, Anne Sexton), New Romanticism (Dylan Thomas), The Beats (Allen Ginsberg), New Formalism (Richard Wilbur), Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism, Orphism, Purism, Dadism, Constructivism, and other -isms too numerous (and obscure) to name!

My Top Ten Free Verse Poets and Poems

My personal (and therefore subjective) top ten free verse poets are Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman

Honorable Mention: Conrad Aiken, Matthew Arnold, John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, William Blake, Louise Bogan, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Robert Hayden, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robinson Jeffers, Stanley Kunitz, Tom Merrill, Marianne Moore, Pablo Neruda (as translated by W. S. Merwin), Sylvia Plath, Louis Omar Salinas, Carl Sandburg, Christopher Smart, Derek Walcott, William Carlos Williams, James Wright, and the writers and translators of the King James Bible's Psalms and Song of Solomon (aka the Song of Songs)

These are my personal (and again subjective) top ten free verse poems of all time: (#10) "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz, (#9) "The Garden" by Ezra Pound, (#8) "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, (#7) "After the Persian" by Louise Bogan, (#6) "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, (#5) "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot, (#4) "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens, (#3) "The Snowman" by Wallace Stevens, (#2) "Voyages" by Hart Crane, (#1) "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman

Free Verse

Sappho of Lesbos is perhaps the first great female poet still known to us today, and she remains one of the very best poets of all time, regardless of gender. She is so revered for her erotic love poetry that we get our terms "sapphic" and "lesbian" from her name and island of residence. While she did not write free verse herself, many of her translators have used free verse to bring us her work in English. And, as you can see from the utterly stellar epigram below, she remains a timeless treasure:

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.

This is my favorite poem by Walt Whitman, the father of English free verse and perhaps the most original and unique American poet. "A Noiseless, Patient Spider" demonstrates how a great poem can mesmerize us with a simple metaphor: here, a spider weaving its web symbolizes the ever-questing and -questioning human soul.

A Noiseless Patient Spider

by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were the mother and father of American free verse, but they were as unalike as night and day. Whitman claimed to be a rogue and wrote freely about sex and homosexuality. Dickinson was a recluse who wrote about love more circumspectly. But perhaps they were not so unalike, since it has been suggested that they both wrote about love without ever consummating a real-life relationship. In any case, they left us many moving and memorable poems. Dickinson's poems seem more formal/traditional that Whitman's, but she employed slant rhymes and metrical variations that make her sound different from any poet before her ...

Come slowly, Eden
by Emily Dickinson

Come slowly, Eden
Lips unused to thee.
Bashful, sip thy jasmines,
As the fainting bee,
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars—alights,
And is lost in balms!

If Walt Whitman is the father of free verse, Ezra Pound is the rebellious son who helped carry on the family tradition despite not always agreeing with (or wanting to acknowledge) his patriarch. Pound is an interesting poet. He advised other poets to "make it new," then wrote some of the most archaic-sounding poems since Chaucer. But he proved in poems like "The Garden" that free verse can rival the best formal poetry.

The Garden
by Ezra Pound

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
               of a sort of emotional anemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.

She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
             will commit that indiscretion.

Wallace Stevens is one of the best modern free verse poets, although many of his best poems are written in what appears to be gorgeously-rhythmed blank verse (i.e., unrhymed iambic pentameter). His meter is so good it defies categorization; only Hart Crane rivals him when it comes to writing fluid verse.

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

D. H. Lawrence is another poet who's difficult to categorize. "Piano" may be the best and most musical of his poems. While most of his best-known poems are decidedly free verse, this one is written in rhymed couplets and seems more traditional, yet in a nicely relaxed, modern way.

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Along with Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot helped create modern free verse. This poem demonstrates his remarkable talents. While Eliot was a sophisticated, urbane poet, his main theme was human love, and he often comes across as a somewhat "nerdy," disillusioned romantic.

Shine, Perishing Republic
by Robinson Jeffers

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth.

La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
by T. S. Eliot

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair —
Lean on a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose.

William Carlos Williams is one of the most important American free verse poets, along with Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Langston Hughes is another important and highly influential American free verse poet. He was also important as a protest poet. His poetry contains elements of traditional poetry, negro spirituals and the blues.

I, Too, Sing America
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Luis Omar Salinas is generally considered to be one of the best Hispanic poets to write in English, with good cause. "Sometimes Mysteriously" is one of those mysterious poems that makes us feel a special kinship with the poet.

Sometimes Mysteriously
by Luis Omar Salinas

Sometimes in the evening when love
tunes its harp and the crickets
celebrate life, I am like a troubadour
in search of friends, loved ones,
anyone who will share with me
a bit of conversation. My loneliness
arrives ghostlike and pretentious,
it seeks my soul, it is ravenous
and hurting. I admire my father
who always has advice in these matters,
but a game of chess won't do, or
the frivolity of religion.
I want to find a solution, so I
write letters, poems, and sometimes
I touch solitude on the shoulder
and surrender to a great tranquility.
I understand I need courage
and sometimes, mysteriously,
I feel whole.

The following poem by Robinson Jeffers reminds me of Robert Oppenheimer's comparison of the atomic bomb to Shiva: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

by Robinson Jeffers

There is a hawk that is picking the birds out of our sky,
She killed the pigeons of peace and security,
She has taken honesty and confidence from nations and men,
She is hunting the lonely heron of liberty.
She loads the arts with nonsense, she is very cunning,
Science with dreams and the state with powers to catch them at last.
Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running.
This is the hawk that picks out the star's eyes.
This is the only hunter that will ever catch the wild swan;
The prey she will take last is the wild white swan of the beauty of things.
Then she will be alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme,
Empty darkness under the death-tent wings.
She will build a nest of the swan's bones and hatch a new brood,
Hang new heavens with new birds, all be renewed.

If modern English/American free verse began with Walt Whitman, he obviously learned much about his craft from the King James Bible. The passage below demonstrates just how moving and musical poetry can be, without formal meter or rhyme.

Song of Solomon
attributed to King Solomon
from the King James Bible

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes,
and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor wake my love, till he please.

"Wulf and Eadwacer" is perhaps the first great poem in the English language, with the caveat that at the time it was written English still sounded a lot like German. I hope my loose translation of the poem does the poem justice, because it has been one of my favorite poems since I first read it. The poem is especially interesting because it seems to have been written by a woman and it deals with what appears to be rape, an unwanted child, and perhaps a ménage a trois.

Wulf and Eadwacer  (Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Ballad, circa 960 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is to the others as if someone robbed them of a gift.
They will kill him if he comes in force.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf is on one island; I, on another.
That island is fast, surrounded by fens.
There are fierce men on this island.
They will kill him if he comes in force.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf's far wanderings, I suffered with hope.
Whenever it rained and I woke disconsolate
the bold warrior came: he took me in his arms.
For me, that was pleasant, but it also was painful.
Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your infrequent visits
have left me famished, unable to eat.
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sunder what never was one:
our song together.

The earliest Old English poem still extant today is probably "Cædmon's Hymn," which was composed sometime between 658 and 680 AD. According to the scholar Bede (673-735), Cædmon was an illiterate herdsman who worked at the monastery of Whitby, a small English fishing village on the North Sea. Cædmon, as Bede's story goes, was given the gift of poetic composition by an angel. Like "Wulf and Eadwacer," "Cædmon's Hymn" was written in accentual meter, which utilizes four strong beats per line and alliteration to create "word music." 

Cædmon's Hymn
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now we must honour heaven-kingdom's Guardian,
the might of the Architect and his mind-plans,
the work of the Glory-Father. First he, the eternal Lord,
established the foundation of wonders.
Then he, the first Poet, created heaven as a roof
for the sons of men, holy Creator,
Guardian of mankind. Then he, the eternal Lord,
afterwards made the middle earth for men, Master almighty.

The poem below, by Ezra Pound, strikes me as a "free verse Haiku." This short poem demonstrates the ability of the better poets to capture a moment, in a few words, for all time.

In A Station Of The Metro
by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Allen Ginsburg was perhaps Walt Whitman's primary heir. In this poem, Ginsburg captures the questing spirit of Whitman, the way Whitman once captured the questing spirit of a noiseless patient spider.

A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

"Dover Beach," written around 1850 and published in 1867, has been called "the first major free-verse poem in the language." I tend to agree, as "Dover Beach" and T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" strike me as the first two great modern free verse poems in the English language, out of the poems that continue to employ meter and rhyme in a more relaxed form, while the best poems of Walt Whitman make a more complete break. Arnold's and Eliot's poems also seem more modern, while Whitman's sound more like the King James Bible. But I love the best work of all three poets, so once again I don't want to split hairs.  It's interesting to compare the different styles that began to emerge from the mid 1800's to early 1900's, but there is no more need to choose between formal poetry and free verse than there is to choose between classical music and jazz.

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

"Those Winter Sundays" is a poem that is simultaneously a blank verse sonnet and free verse. Rather than trying to label it, we should simply enjoy it, as it tells a compelling story about a boy who once took his father for granted, until one day he "saw the light."

Those Winter Sundays

by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Buffalo Bill's defunct
by e. e. cummings

Buffalo Bill's
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
        and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
        he was a handsome man
                             and what i want to know is
        how do you like your blueeyed boy
        Mister Death

Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour
by Wallace Stevens

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one ...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

by Sylvia Plath

The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

Other free verse poems of note:

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking Rocking by Walt Whitman
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
Preludes by T. S. Eliot
Morning Song of Senlin by Conrad Aiken
The Cantos by Ezra Pound
A Pact by Ezra Pound
Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
Returning, We Hear the Larks by Isaac Rosenberg
War Is Kind by Stephen Crane
Helen by H. D.
Orchard by H.D.
Garden by H.D.
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond by e. e. cummings
The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop
The Send-Off by Wilfred Owen
After the Persian by Louise Bogan
My Grandma's Love Letters by Hart Crane
Forgetfulness by Hart Crane
Voyages by Hart Crane
Incidental Effects of the Revival of Fascism on a Provincial French Island by T. Merrill
Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander
Fog by Carl Sandburg
Free Verse by Robert Graves
Little Father by Li-Young Lee
Winter Poem by Nikki Giovanni
Soonest Mended by John Ashbery
The Fish by Marianne Moore
Poetry by Marianne Moore
Marriage by Marianne Moore
Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich
Apology for Bad Dreams by Robinson Jeffers
Spring and All by William Carlos Williams
Snake by D. H. Lawrence
The Ship of Death by D. H. Lawrence
Medlars and Sorb-Apples by D. H. Lawrence

Related pages: Famous Free Verse Poems

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