On this list, readers will find thirteen incredible poems written in blank verse or unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Blank verse is extraordinarily widespread and has had an enormous impact on English poetry since it became popular in the 16th century. Scholars have estimated that close to three-fourths of all English poetry is in blank verse. It is still used today with modern poets like Robert Frost experimenting with it.
Best Blank Verse Poems
- 1 The Idea of Order at the Key West by Wallace Stevens
- 2 Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- 3 Rain by Edward Thomas
- 4 The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
- 5 Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning
- 6 Mending Wall by Robert Frost
- 7 Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth
- 8 Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens
- 9 Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 10 ‘To be or not to be’ speech from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- 11 Paradise Lost by John Milton
- 12 Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- 13 As the Team’s Head-Brass by Edward Thomas
Readers should take note of the alternating unstressed and stressed beats in ‘The Idea of Order at the Key West’ that mark this poem’s structure as blank verse. Although Stevens enjoyed the form, there are moments in the poem in which there are more than 10 syllables per line or the stresses become confused.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
‘Aurora Leigh’ is a long narrative poem that benefits from blank verse in the same way that Paradise Lost does. The “fallen woman” is embodied in this piece that focuses on an aspiring female poet.
Of writing many books there is no end;
And I who have written much in prose and verse
For others’ uses, will write now for mine,–
Will write my story for my better self,
‘Rain’ was written in 1916 while Thomas was serving in the First World War. It is written in eighteen lines of blank verse. It describes the poet’s relationship with death as he contemplates the future while stuck in the trenches. Here are the first few lines:
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
In this famous poem, Yeats uses blank verse to describe the Second Coming and speak about the anarchy that’s sprung up around the world in the wake of the First World War. In this poem, readers can also read consider how Ireland played into his depiction of events and states of being. Here are four lines from the poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ is one of a few long monologues that Browning wrote in blank verse. This specific piece describes a drunken friar’s life, as told from his perspective. It is one of the best examples of blank verse on this list.
I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!
In ‘Mending Wall,’ Frost chooses to write in blank verse, something that was unusual in a time in which experimentation was more popular than anything else. In this poem, the poet writes about humanity’s desire to mark its territory and set boundaries for our homes. Here are the first four lines:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
This well-loved poem was written while Wordsworth was thinking about the ruins of a medieval priory in the Wye Valley in South Wales. He wrote the poem while in Bristol after considering the ruins. It is peaceful, contemplative, and one of the best pieces of Romantic poetry. It’s also a great example of blank verse:
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
In this long poem, Stevens uses blank verse to speak about not being Christian. Specifically, it centers on a woman who stays home rather than going to church. One of the most famous lines from the poem is “Death is the mother of beauty.” Here are a few more lines from the beginning of the poem:
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice
This piece was published in Conversational Poems and composed to celebrate the birth of the poet’s son. In the lines, Coleridge describes the connection between nature and his mood/mind. Here are some lines from the first stanza that hint at the meditative mood of the piece and use blank verse:
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘To be or not to be’ speech from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
‘To be or not to be’ is a famous speech from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. In the lines, the main character considers suicide while using blank verse lines. He’s considering how death would relieve him of his burdens, such as avenging his father’s death. Here are the famous first lines of the speech:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Milton’s famous epic, Paradise Lost is written in ten books, with over ten thousand lines of verse. It uses blank verse throughout while telling the story of the biblical Fall of Man. It features Satan and the various fallen angels that Satan tries to rally against God. Here are the first lines of the poem:
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
This famous poem is written from the perceptive of Ulysses. He looks back on his life from an aged perceptive. There are moments in this poem in which Tennyson manages to maintain blank verse perfectly for many lines at a time. Here are some lines that demonstrate that from the end of the poem:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
This is the second poem on the list by Thomas and another great example of how blank verse can be used. Here, in what is one of his most widely anthologized poems, he describes the attitudes of English men and women towards the First World War. Here are some of the best-known lines:
As the team’s head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm