Blank Verse: Understanding, Examples & Writing Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is blank verse?
  2. Origins and history of blank verse
  3. Examples of blank verse
  4. How to identify blank verse
  5. Why poets use blank verse
  6. Tips for writing blank verse
  7. Practice writing blank verse

Imagine a poem—no rhyme but still sounding like a melody. That's what we call blank verse in the world of poetry, and it's not as blank as it may sound. Let's dive into the rhythm and rhyme of blank verse, and you'll soon understand why it's a favorite of poets and readers alike.

What is blank verse?

The definition of blank verse starts with its structure: it's a type of poetry written in a specific meter known as iambic pentameter. This might sound like a mouthful, but don't worry—it's simpler than it appears:

  • Iambic: This term refers to a unit of rhythm, called an "iamb," that consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Think of the word "allow"—the second syllable is stressed, right? That's an iamb.
  • Pentameter: "Penta" means five. So, in iambic pentameter, there are five iambs, or five sets of unstressed-stressed syllables. This gives the line a rhythm that sounds like this: da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. It's like the heartbeat of the poem.

Now, here's the kicker: though blank verse uses this regular rhythm, it doesn't rhyme at the end of the lines. That's what makes it "blank." But even without end rhyme, the regular rhythm of iambic pentameter gives it a musical feel. That's the charm of blank verse—it holds a balance between the structured rhythm of formal poetry and the conversational ease of free verse.

So the definition of blank verse, in simple terms, is: poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. It's a style that gives poets a lot of freedom while still providing a backbone of rhythm to build on. And it's been used by some of the greatest writers in history, from William Shakespeare to Robert Frost.

Origins and history of blank verse

Now that we understand the definition of blank verse, let's explore its roots. It's like a tree—once you know what it looks like, you'll want to know where it comes from, right?

The history of blank verse goes back to the Italian Renaissance. It was first used by Italian poets in the 16th century, but it was the English who really fell in love with it. When Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, translated the epic "Aeneid" from Latin into English, he used unrhymed iambic pentameter. This was the first major use of blank verse in the English language.

But the true champion of blank verse was none other than William Shakespeare. He used it in his plays to create a rhythm that was close to everyday English speech yet still had a touch of musicality. This made his lines memorable, even without the use of rhyme.

And it didn't stop with Shakespeare. Blank verse became the go-to form for many English poets during the Renaissance and beyond. It was used in epic poems, dramas, and even in narrative poetry. John Milton's "Paradise Lost", an epic poem about the fall of man, is one of the most famous works written in blank verse.

Even in the modern era, blank verse has not lost its charm. Robert Frost, a well-known 20th-century poet, often used blank verse in his poetry. And guess what? Even Dr. Seuss dabbled in blank verse! In his book "The Lorax", he used unrhymed iambic pentameter to tell a story that still resonates with readers today.

So, from the Renaissance to Dr. Seuss, blank verse has been a beloved tool in the poet's toolbox. It's a testament to its versatility and enduring appeal.

Examples of blank verse

Let's see some blank verse in action, shall we? Remember, the definition of blank verse is poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. So, let's dive into some examples from notable poets.

First up, a line from Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Act 3, Scene 1:

"To be, or not to be: that is the question:"

This line is a perfect example of iambic pentameter. It has five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables and, of course, no rhyme. Simple, but powerful, right?

Next, we have an example from John Milton's "Paradise Lost":

"Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit"

Again, notice the pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables, and the lack of rhyme at the end. That's blank verse for you!

And here's a modern example from Robert Frost's "Birches":

"When I see birches bend to left and right"

Despite being written centuries after Shakespeare and Milton, Frost's line still adheres to the definition of blank verse. It's a timeless style!

Finally, a fun example from Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax":

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot"

Even in a children's book, blank verse can create a rhythm that's engaging and memorable. That's the beauty of it!

These examples show how blank verse can be used to create rhythm and emphasis in poetry, even without the use of rhyme.

How to identify blank verse

Understanding how to identify blank verse can be a game changer for your poetry appreciation. So, how do you spot it? Here are some pointers:

First, remember that blank verse is unrhymed. That means if you're reading a poem and you notice a rhyme scheme, it's not blank verse. But don't just stop there—look closer.

Blank verse is written in iambic pentameter. This is a fancy way of saying each line has ten syllables, broken down into five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. So, if you're counting syllables and you hit ten, you might be reading blank verse.

Take this snippet from "Hamlet" for instance:

"To be, or not to be: that is the question:"

Count the syllables. You'll find there are ten. And if you recite it aloud, you'll notice a rhythm—unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, and so on. That's iambic pentameter, and it's a telltale sign of blank verse.

Keep in mind, though, that not all blank verse strictly adheres to the iambic pentameter rule. Some poets might add an extra syllable or two for effect. So, if you're counting syllables and you get eleven or twelve, don't rule out blank verse just yet!

Also, remember that blank verse isn't restricted to highbrow literature. You can find it in modern poems, plays, and even children's books like Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax". So, keep your eyes (and ears) open!

Understanding and identifying blank verse can enrich your reading experience and even inspire you to experiment with it in your own writing. So, why not give it a try?

Why poets use blank verse

Now that you know what blank verse is and how to identify it, you might be wondering why poets choose to use it. What's so special about it?

The answer lies in its flexibility and natural flow. Because it doesn't rely on rhyme, blank verse gives poets the freedom to focus on the actual words and their meanings without having to find matching sounds. It's like having a conversation, only more rhythmic and poetic.

Take a look at this line from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall":

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

Notice how it feels more like a spoken sentence than a typical line of poetry? That's the power of blank verse. It lets poets convey profound ideas in a manner that feels natural and relatable.

But there's more to blank verse than just its conversational tone. It's also about rhythm. Remember the iambic pentameter? That steady beat gives the verse a musical quality, even without rhymes. It's like the heartbeat of the poem, steady and constant.

So, in essence, poets use blank verse to strike a balance between the musicality of traditional poetry and the natural flow of conversation. It's a tool that allows them to create a unique rhythm and structure while keeping the language accessible and engaging. No wonder it's been a favorite among poets for centuries!

Tips for writing blank verse

Are you inspired to try your hand at writing blank verse? Great! Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Keep it conversational: Remember, one of the charms of blank verse is its conversational tone. So, write as you speak. Don't worry about making it sound "poetic". The rhythm and flow will take care of that.

2. Play with the rhythm: While iambic pentameter is the traditional rhythm of blank verse, you're not chained to it. Feel free to experiment with different rhythms to find what works best for your piece.

3. Don't force a rhyme: Blank verse is, well, blank. It doesn't require rhymes. So, don't try to squeeze in a rhyme where it doesn't naturally fit. Let the words and their meanings be your guide.

4. Embrace the freedom: Blank verse gives you the freedom to explore a wide range of topics and emotions without the constraints of a specific rhyme scheme or structure. Embrace it. Let your thoughts flow freely, and see where they take you.

5. Practice, practice, practice: As with anything, practice makes perfect. So, don't get discouraged if your first few attempts don't turn out as you expected. Keep writing, keep experimenting, and you'll get the hang of it.

Remember, the goal is to create something that speaks to you and your audience. So, don't get too caught up in the technicalities. Focus on the message you want to convey, and let the rhythm and flow come naturally. Happy writing!

Practice writing blank verse

Now that you've got some tips, let's get down to some hands-on practice. Writing blank verse, like any other form of poetry, is a skill that improves with practice. Here's a step-by-step guide you can follow:

1. Choose Your Topic: Remember, blank verse is perfect for a wide array of topics. You could choose to write about a personal experience, an observation, or an imagined scenario. The choice is yours!

2. Start Writing: Don't worry too much about the 'definition of blank verse' or its rules at this point. Just start writing. Let your thoughts flow on the page. You can always come back and adjust for rhythm and meter later.

3. Review for Rhythm: After you've got your thoughts down, read your work aloud. Listen for the natural rhythm of your words. If something feels off, don't be afraid to change it.

4. Edit for Iambic Pentameter: This is the standard rhythm for blank verse. If you're new to the concept, it's simply a line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable. It might sound complex, but with a bit of practice, you'll get the hang of it!

5. Polish and Refine: Read your work once more. Make any final tweaks to the rhythm, word choice, and overall flow of your verse. Remember — blank verse is all about the natural flow of language. If it sounds like natural speech, you're on the right track.

And there you have it! You've just written a piece of blank verse. Remember, the beauty of blank verse lies in its freedom and flexibility, so feel free to make it your own. And most importantly — have fun with it!

If you're excited about exploring the world of blank verse poetry and want to improve your writing skills, check out Alieu Drammeh's workshop, '10 Minute Poetry Challenge: THINK LESS, WRITE MORE!.' This workshop will help you unleash your creativity and provide you with fun exercises to become a more confident poet.