Traditionally, if a piece of writing is in meter it can be described as “verse.” But, considering how much poetry is written in free verse today, it’s now applied to mean anything that takes on other aspects of a poem. These include a rhyme scheme, the use of poetic/figurative language, uses stanzas, etc.
Definition of Verse
Verse is a word that was originally used to describe a single line of poetry. But, today it’s used more broadly. It refers to a single line, a stanza, or the entire poem itself. One can say that poets “write verse,” “one line of verse” was interesting, or even that they read the “second verse” of a particular poem. Sometimes, the word is used pejoratively, denoting that a poet’s work is standard and commonplace.
The word “verse” comes from the Latin word “versus” meaning “turning.”
A poem that doesn’t use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. It can still use other poetic techniques, stanzas, and more. These poems are popular in contemporary writing. For example:
In this poem, the poet uses free verse. Whitman is, in fact, considered to be the “father of free verse poetry.” Here are a few lines of the poem to demonstrate how he uses no rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
Immediately, it’s quite clear how different the lines are length-wise. They do not rhyme nor is there is a specific metrical pattern that unites them. But, that doesn’t mean they entirely lack unity. Consider, for example, Whitman’s use of repetition with the words “I” and “engirth” in the second line as well as “them” in the following lines. Throughout the rest of the poem, readers will also find numerous examples of rhetorical questions.
Read more Walt Whitman poems.
A poem that is written in unrhymed meter, usually iambic pentameter. This style of verse is usually used when the writer wants to speak passionately about a topic. It can be used in dialogue as well as in narrative descriptions. William Shakespeare famously used it in much of his dramatic writing. Here is an example by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In this poem, the poet uses iambic pentameter. The piece was composed to celebrate the poet’s son being born. In the lines, he speaks on nature and the connection to the human mind, specifically his own and his son’s. Here are a few lines that demonstrate this style of 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.
In these lines, readers can easily follow the pattern of iambic pentameter. There are five sets of two beats in each line. The first syllable of which is unstressed and the second is stressed.
Explore more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
Examples of Verse in Literature
This wonderfully popular poem was written in 1922 and is an excellent example of verse. It narrates the account of a man standing deep in the woods torn between two choices. It follows a rhyme scheme of AABA BBCB CCDD DDDD and is divided into quatrains, or sets of four lines. This is one of the most common styles of verse. Take a look at these lines:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
It also follows a metrical pattern of iambic tetrameter. This means that most of the lines contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
Discover more Robert Frost poems.
Why Do Writers Use Verse?
Verse is an important part of literature because of the way it brings together pleasing sounds, interesting images, and emotions. The various types of verse, and the rhyme schemes and metrical patterns they contain, provide writers with a wide variety of structures and possible forms.
The word “verse” refers to various elements of a poem, or a piece of writing that uses poetic techniques and stanzas.
Yes, the word “verse” can refer to a stanza, single line, or an entire poem.
A poem that doesn’t have a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
A poem that does not rhyme but uses iambic pentameter as its metrical pattern.
Related Literary Terms
- Poem Subject: the main idea, goal, or thing about which the poem is concerned
- Meter: the pattern of beats in a line of poetry. It is a combination of the number of beats and arrangement of stresses.
- Poetic Foot: refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.
- Canzone: used to refer to a verse form in Italy and France in the medieval period.
- Read: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
- Listen: Examples of Stanza or Verse in Poetry
- Watch: What makes a poem…a poem?