Understanding Blank Verse: Definition, Examples, and Usage
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


Have you ever come across a type of poetry that doesn't rhyme but still has a rhythm to it? You might have stumbled upon what is known as blank verse. Blank verse is a fascinating form of poetry that's been used by many famous writers. For a deeper dive into this, let's explore the definition of blank verse, its origins, characteristics, examples, and how you can even write your own.

What is Blank Verse?

Blank verse is a type of poetry that's as exciting as it is mysterious. You might think that poems need to rhyme, but not in the case of blank verse. So, what exactly does the definition of blank verse mean?

Definition of Blank Verse

At its core, the definition of blank verse is a type of poetry written in lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. That's quite a mouthful, isn't it? Let's break it down:

  • Unrhymed: This means that the lines in the poem do not rhyme.
  • Iambic pentameter: This is a term used to describe a common pattern of rhythm. An "iamb" is a unit of poetry consisting of two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed (or weak), and the second syllable is stressed (or strong). "Pentameter" refers to five sets of unstressed/stressed syllable pairs in a line. So, "iambic pentameter" is a line of poetry with five iambs.

So when you read the definition of blank verse, you know it's a form of poetry that has rhythm but doesn't rhyme. It's like a dance where the dancers move to the beat but don't follow a set routine.

Where You Might Find Blank Verse

Now that you know the definition of blank verse, you might wonder where you can find it. You'll be surprised to know it's more common than you think! From Shakespeare's plays to Milton's epic poems, many of the world's most renowned literature pieces are written in blank verse. We'll explore more about this in the examples section.

History of Blank Verse

The story behind blank verse is as captivating as the form itself. So, how did blank verse come about and who were its pioneers? Let's take a look!

Origin of Blank Verse

The history of blank verse can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance. The renowned Italian poet, Petrarch, was one of the early users of this form. However, it was not until the 16th century that blank verse made its grand entrance into English literature.

Blank Verse in English Literature

The introduction of blank verse in English literature is credited to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He translated the second and fourth books of Virgil's "Aeneid" into unrhymed iambic pentameter, thus laying the foundation for blank verse in the English language.

The Rise of Blank Verse

After its introduction, blank verse found favor with many prominent writers. The most notable of them is none other than William Shakespeare. He employed blank verse to its fullest potential in his plays, making it a signature of his work. Following Shakespeare, other writers like Milton and Wordsworth also extensively used blank verse in their works, solidifying its place in English literature.

So, from the Italian Renaissance to the Elizabethan stage, the history of blank verse is indeed a fascinating journey. Now, having explored the definition of blank verse and its history, you might wonder what sets blank verse apart. Let's move on to understand its distinct characteristics.

Characteristics of Blank Verse

In order to understand the definition of blank verse better, it's important to recognize its features. Blank verse has distinct characteristics that set it apart from other forms of poetry.

Unrhymed Lines

One of the main characteristics of blank verse is that it's unrhymed. You won't find a rhyme scheme here. But don't let this lack of rhyme fool you! The beauty of blank verse lies in its rhythm, not in its rhymes.

Iambic Pentameter

Blank verse generally uses iambic pentameter. This means each line has ten syllables, with a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. This rhythm gives blank verse a natural flow, making it a favorite choice for dramatic monologues in plays.

Variation and Flexibility

Another characteristic of blank verse is its flexibility. While it usually follows iambic pentameter, poets often vary the rhythm for effect. This flexibility allows poets to express complex thoughts and emotions effectively.

So there you have it! These are the key characteristics of blank verse. Understanding these features will help you identify blank verse in literature and even create your own. Speaking of which, wouldn't it be great to see some examples of blank verse in action?

Examples of Blank Verse in Literature

Now that you're familiar with the characteristics of blank verse, let's see how it comes to life in literature. Here are a few examples of how renowned authors have used blank verse to create memorable lines.

William Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

Shakespeare, the master of blank verse, used it extensively in his plays. Here is an extract from "Macbeth" where the title character reflects on life:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,    To the last syllable of recorded time;

Even without rhymes, these lines carry a deep sense of melancholy and despair. This is a prime example of how the rhythm of blank verse can evoke strong emotions.

John Milton's "Paradise Lost"

John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" is another great example of blank verse. Check out these lines from Book 1:

Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit    Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste    Brought death into the World, and all our woe,

Here, the rhythm of blank verse helps to underscore the gravity of the tale Milton is telling.

Robert Frost's "Birches"

Robert Frost, a more modern poet, also made use of blank verse. His poem "Birches" is a fine example:

When I see birches bend to left and right    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

In the hands of Frost, the flexible rhythm of blank verse beautifully captures the natural imagery of the poem.

So, as you can see, blank verse has been a powerful tool for poets across centuries. Now, are you ready to try your hand at writing in blank verse?

How to Write in Blank Verse

Perhaps you're wondering, "Could I write in blank verse?" Absolutely! Let's walk through the steps to help you craft your first blank verse.

Step 1: Understand Iambic Pentameter

Remember, blank verse is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. An iamb is a metrical foot with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (da-DUM). A line of iambic pentameter has five iambs, making ten syllables in total. For example, take the line:

"The sun does rise at break of day."

It breaks down into five iambs (The SUN / does RISE / at BREAK / of DAY).

Step 2: Maintain a Natural Flow

Writing in iambic pentameter doesn't mean you should force the rhythm. The beauty of blank verse is how it approximates the natural rhythm of English speech. So, while keeping the meter in mind, aim for lines that sound natural and conversational.

Step 3: Make Your Words Count

One of the challenges of blank verse is to convey meaning effectively within the constraints of the meter. Every word should add value. Consider choosing words that not only fit the rhythm but also enrich your imagery and tone.

Step 4: Practice and Revise

It's rare to get the meter right on the first try. Keep practicing and revising your lines. Read them out loud and listen to the rhythm they create. Are they too choppy or monotonous? Do they sound natural?

Writing in blank verse can be a fun and rewarding experience. It may seem a bit tricky at first, but with practice, you'll start to feel the rhythm naturally. Happy writing!

Why Use Blank Verse?

You might look at the blank verse definition and wonder, "Okay, but why should I use this?" Great question! Here's why:

It Mimics Natural Speech

Blank verse, particularly when it is written in iambic pentameter, has a rhythm that is close to the natural cadence of English speech. This can make your writing feel more organic and relatable to readers.

It Provides Structure

While it doesn't have the end rhymes of other forms, blank verse still gives your writing a structural backbone. The consistent meter can provide a sense of order and harmony, even in the absence of rhyme.

It Encourages Precision

The constraints of blank verse force you to choose your words with care. This can be a great exercise in precision, helping you to sharpen your language and refine your voice as a writer.

It Has a Rich Literary Tradition

Blank verse has been the chosen form of many great writers, from Shakespeare to Milton to Robert Frost. If you choose to write in blank verse, you're joining a long and illustrious line of poets and playwrights.

In short, blank verse offers a unique blend of freedom and structure, making it a versatile and effective tool for many types of writing.

If you're eager to expand your knowledge of poetry and want to put your newfound understanding of blank verse into practice, check out Alieu Drammeh's workshop, '10 Minute Poetry Challenge: THINK LESS, WRITE MORE!.' This engaging workshop will help you hone your poetry skills through fun, fast-paced exercises and challenges.