Free Verse is a form of poetry which has no rhyme scheme and no fixed metrical pattern. Thus a free verse poem has no set meter; which means that there is no rhyming scheme present and the poem doesn’t follow a set pattern. As free verse doesn’t follow the rhythm schemes of traditional poetry, its rhythms are based on patterned elements such as sounds, words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs. Though the term was not used during his age, American poet Walt Whitman is often called the father of free verse. Technically speaking, free verse arose with the vers libre form, created in the late 19th century in France. In the early 20th century, several prominent English language poets were influenced by vers libre including T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Since then, the majority of published lyric poetry has been written in free verse. Here are the 10 most famous poems written in free verse.
#10 This Is Just To Say
|Poet:||William Carlos Williams|
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold
William Carlos Williams was a Puerto Rican-American poet closely associated with Imagism, a poetic movement that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. This is a famous short imagist poem which appears like a piece of found poetry. It can also be seen as a note left on a kitchen table for a person with whom the speaker is living. The speaker simply says that he ate the plums which were in the icebox and asks for forgiveness from his mate; as his mate had been probably saving them for breakfast. Though a very simple poem, This Is Just To Say is a very popular short poem and one of Williams’ most famous works.
#9 Those Winter Sundays
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?
Those Winter Sundays does not follow the conventions of the sonnet form apart from its 14 lines length and the theme of love, which is traditionally associated with sonnets. In the poem, the speaker remembers how his father rose up early on Sunday mornings, despite the hard work he did all week, and stroked the furnace fire. He woke his son only when the house was warm and he even polished his son’s “good shoes”. The speaker then regrets being indifferent to his father and not thanking him. The prominent themes of the poem are fatherly love and regret for not being grateful for the various ways in which people express their love. Those Winter Sundays is the most famous work of African American poet Robert Hayden and it ranks among the most anthologized American poems of the 20th century.
#8 The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Langston Hughes was an African American poet who was a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote his most famous poem when he was only seventeen. The idea of it came to him while he crossed the Mississippi river while travelling on a train to Mexico to meet his father. He began to think what Mississippi had meant to Negroes in the past leading him to think what other rivers had meant to them and the thought came to him, “I’ve known rivers”. He then penned down this much acclaimed poem in around fifteen minutes. In the poem Langston connects to all his African forefathers through rivers which are “older than the flow of human blood in human veins”. He places his ancestor on important historical and cultural sites and uses active verbs like “I built”, “I bathed”, etc. to demonstrate their active participation in civilization since ancient times, even when they had to face discrimination.
#7 The Hollow Men
|Poet:||T. S. Eliot|
We are the hollow men We are the stuffed men Leaning together Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when We whisper together Are quiet and meaningless As wind in dry grass Or rats' feet over broken glass In our dry cellar Shape without form, shade without colour, Paralysed force, gesture without motion; Those who have crossed With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom Remember us-if at all-not as lost Violent souls, but only As the hollow men The stuffed men. Read The Full Poem Here
Thomas Stearns Eliot was a British writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for “his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”. The Hollow Men, the narrators of this poem, are trapped in a go-between world, a sort of twilight world between “death and dying”. Eliot perhaps uses them to personify the spiritual emptiness of the world. The poem is regarded by critics to be primarily about post-World War I Europe and the difficulty of hope and religious conversion. The Hollow Men contains some of Eliot’s most famous lines, most prominently its concluding lines: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”, which have been called “probably the most quoted lines of any 20th-century poet writing in English”.
#6 The Red Wheelbarrow
|Poet:||William Carlos Williams|
so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens
Originally published without a title, this poem is the best known poem of William Carlos Williams. It was originally published in Spring and All and was titled “XXII”; its order in the collection. The Red Wheelbarrow was inspired by an old African American named Marshall whom Williams knew. According to Williams: “In his (Marshall’s) back yard I saw the red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens. I suppose my affection for the old man somehow got into the writing.” Imagism was an early-20th-century poetic movement that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. The Red Wheelbarrow is regarded as a prime example of Imagism. Though the poem is very short, it has been much analyzed with some critics believing that “‘so much depends upon’ each line of the poem”.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York, who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night Read The Full Poem Here
Howl can be divided into three sections. In the first, the speaker talks about the destruction of “the best minds” of his generation in an oppressively conformist and materialistic era. He asks the question “who” in this section and identifies these minds as poets, artists, political dissenters, musicians, drug addicts and psychiatric patients. In the second section, the speaker asks the question “what” destroyed these minds. He identifies the destroyer as the Biblical God “Moloch”, who is associated with child sacrifice. For the poet, Moloch represents war, government, capitalism and mainstream culture. The central question of the third section is “where”. It is addressed to Carl Solomon, a close fried of Allen Ginsberg, who is admitted at a psychiatric hospital. Howl is regarded as one of the great works of American literature and it is among the most famous free verse poems of the 20th century.
You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time—— Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du. In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend Read The Full Poem Here
Daddy was written by Plath in October 1962, around four months before she committed suicide, and was published posthumously as part of the poetry collection Ariel. Containing sixteen five-line stanzas, the poem is narrated by a girl who has Electra complex, analogous to a boy’s Oedipus complex. It deals with the narrator’s effort to get over her complex emotions for her deceased father, who apart from suppressing her daughter, was also a Nazi. Plath uses dark and vivid imagery in the poem and controversially uses the Holocaust as a metaphor. Several critics consider the poem to be related to the writer’s complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died shortly after her eighth birthday due to diabetes. It is also considered to be an articulation against male dominance. Written in free verse, Daddy is the most famous poem by Sylvia Plath and one of the best-known of the 20th century.
#3 The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
|Poet:||T. S. Eliot|
Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question ... Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. Read The Full Poem Here
Commonly known as just Prufrock, this work was the first professionally published poem of T. S. Eliot and he wrote most of it at the age of 22. Prufrock is a dramatic monologue of an urban man, stricken with feelings of isolation and an incapability for decisive action that is said “to epitomize frustration and impotence of the modern individual” and “represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment”. The speaker is a sexually frustrated and indecisive middle aged man who wants to say something but is afraid to do so, and ultimately does not. At the time of its publication, Prufrock was considered outlandish and was berated by critics. However, it is now considered the first masterpiece of Modernism in English, a poem which marked a monumental literary shift between 19th-century Romantic poetry and 20th-century Modernist poetry.
#2 i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
E.E. Cummings is considered one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century and this poem is his most famous work. The poetry of Cummings is radical for its unconventional punctuation and phrasing. This poem can be compared with a sonnet due to its similar structure but Cummings does add modern twists to it. It begins with the speaker describing the ubiquitous influence of his love in his life and goes on to touch several themes including oneness, and love as the originator of life. Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that its opening line is still often tattooed by people and that its lines have been used by several music artists. E.E. Cummings is renowned for his love poetry and i carry your heart with me is one of the most famous love poems of all time.
#1 Song of Myself
1 I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death. Creeds and schools in abeyance, Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten, I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, Nature without check with original energy. Read The Full Poem Here
Widely regarded as the father of free verse poetry, Walt Whitman wrote several masterpieces in the form, including Song of Myself. The poem is a mesmerizing mixture of romanticism and realism. It was initially titled Poem of Walt Whitman, an American and also serves as a biography of the poet. In it, Whitman emphasizes an all-powerful “I” which serves as the narrator. This “I” is not limited to Whitman. It transcends the conventional boundaries of self; and identifies with everyone and everything in the universe, including the dead. The poem ends with the narrator saying that he’s going to give his body back to nature to continue his great journey. The poem also focuses on what the narrator believes and what he is opposed to. Song of Myself caught the attention of public and critics alike when it was published. It is Whitman’s most famous poem and it remains among the most acclaimed and influential free verse poems ever written.