Blank Verse: A Beginner’s Guide

Blank verse is a fairly straight forward concept to get your head around (but it is not to be confused with free verse, the two are incredibly different.) Blank verse follows a non-rhyming, strict metrical pattern, usually iambic pentameter. Blank verse became very popular during the renaissance, and the most famous person to use it is (you guessed it) William Shakespeare.

Despite its fairly rigid structure, blank verse has no set number of lines, and is used in a variety of settings, from long narrative poems, to dramatic monologues in plays, to shorter reflective pieces.

What is Iambic Pentameter?

Iambic pentameter is a line consisting of ten syllables (or five Iambs) and is the metric foot usually used in blank verse.

Each iamb consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed, for example:

But, woe is me, you are so sick of late

As well as iambic pentameter, blank verse can also use trochee, spondee, anapest,and dactyll to form its structure, and in true rebellious poet form, many poets use a mixture.

Here are some examples of other blank verse structures :

Trochee blank verse

I like to think of trochee as iambic pentameter in reverse, it follows the same premise except that instead of unstressed/ stressed, trochee is stressed/ unstressed

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

Spondee

Spondee is an unusual one, that would not often make up a whole poem, spondee follows a stressed/ stressed pattern (sounds like my life is a spondee)

bookmark

Anapest

Anapest consists of three syllables in an unstessed/ unstressed/ long stressed pattern.

I must finish my journey alone.

Dactyl blank verse

Dactyl follows a stressed/unstressed/unstressed pattern

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean

This may seem confusing, but you don’t need to memorise every single variant of blank verse. I would suggest first checking to see if the poem is non-rhymed iambic pentameter, and if it isn’t quite right, pull out these definitions and see if one fits.

Blank verse reads beautifully. Originating from Greek and Latin, the main reason that this form gained so much popularity in England is because it makes the poem read in a very lyrical, song-like way, adding a sense of grandeur to the words spoken and capturing the audience’s attention. Blank verse is one of my favourite forms to read and listen to, and I leave you with this excerpt from Dr Faustus so that you can see why.

You stars that reign’d at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into entrails of yon labouring clouds, …
So that my soul may but ascend to Heaven …

Until next time,

R G Wood

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