Free Verse Poems

an afternoon nap

by Arthur Yap

‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap explores the lacunae in the modern education system and how it results in anxiety and stress in students.

In this poem, Yap uses the free-verse form in order to hint at the discord and lack of harmony in a mother-son relationship.

the ambitious mother across the road

is at it again. proclaming her goodness

she beats the boy. shouting out his wrongs, with raps

she begins with his mediocre report-book grades.

O Captain! My Captain!

by Walt Whitman

Saddened by the results of the American civil war, Walt Whitman wrote the elegy, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ in memory of deceased American President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The civil war occurred during his lifetime with Whitman a staunch supporter of unionists.

This is a prime example of free verse poetry. Unlike traditional poetry, free verse has no set meter, rhyme scheme, or structure. Whitman's poem is composed of irregular stanzas and varying line lengths, which give the poem a natural, conversational tone. The free verse structure allows Whitman to emphasize the emotion and depth of feeling behind his words.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;


by Derek Walcott

‘Lampfall’ by Derek Walcott dives deep into an investigation of thought, dreaming, community and connection while also implying that nature and thought are more meaningful than development.

With only a couple of instances of rhyme and no fixed stanza length, this poem is a great example of free verse. Walcott uses free verse to emphasize his dreamlike perception of the natural world, which flows between day and night like the ebbing ocean tide. The fluidity of structure, then, ultimately strengthens Walcott's message for the listener.

Closest at lampfall

Like children, like the moth-flame metaphor,

The Coleman's humming jet at the sea's edge

Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

by Martín Espada

‘Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper’ contrasts two forms of labor and encourages the reader to consider the relationship between them.

The poet's use of free verse reflects the fluidity of their passage through the class system and perhaps creates a sense of chaos as the narrator becomes increasingly dislocated from their childhood.

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours

at a printing plant

that manufactured legal pads:

Explore more Free Verse poems

“Why did you come” (#1 from Hermetic Definition: ‘Red Rose and a Beggar’)

by Hilda Doolittle

‘Why did you come’ by Hilda Doolittle is a free-verse poem about love, self-criticism, aging, and the human inability to control judgments and desires.

Hilda Doolittle was one of the first successful poets to use free verse poetry. "Why did you come" is an excellent example of how she, along with other imagists, replaced strict structures and meters with a more organic form that uses punctuation, enjambment, and breath to create a poetic rhythm.

Why did you come

to trouble my decline?

I am old (I was old till you came);


by Jean Bleakney

‘Winterisation’ subtly weaves the processes of preparing for winter and steeling oneself for news of bereavement.

The poem takes on a breathless tone to mirror a nervous speaker.

Halloween at the caravan.
All along the strand
sand is rearing up
like smoke from a bush fire.


by Allen Ginsberg

‘Howl’ is Allen Ginsberg’s best-known poem and is commonly considered his greatest work. It is an indictment of modern society and a celebration of anyone living outside it.

This poem is an exemplar of free verse poetry, characterized by its lack of meter and rhyme. This style allows for a greater degree of spontaneity and emotional intensity.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,


by Richard de Zoysa

The poem ‘Lepidoptera’ is a metaphorical representation of a mentally ill mind, likened to a broken butterfly wing. The poet is imploring society to support those with mental illness.

This is a free verse poem because it does not follow any strict rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The poem is composed of unrhymed lines, and its structure is loose and flexible. This allows the poet to use a variety of techniques to convey his message, including enjambment, repetition, and figurative language, without being constrained by a rigid form. Free verse provides greater freedom for poets to experiment with language and form, allowing them to convey their message in a more organic and natural way.

On broken butterfly wing,

your crippled mind fluttered into my schoolroom. Failed. And died.

I couldn’t do a thing to stir its organs

of poor maimed sense to life again.

Carpet-weavers, Morocco

by Carol Rumens

‘Carpet-weavers, Morocco’ is a challenging poem which explores issues such as child labour as well as examining the myriad origins of beauty.

The simple, direct style of Rumens' work mirrors that of everyday speech, punctuated with regular pauses.

The children are at the loom of another world.
Their braids are oiled and black, their dresses bright.
Their assorted heights would make a melodious chime.


by Jean Bleakney

‘Nightscapes’ beautifully captures the feeling of being isolated from nature that is common in urban environments.

The poem closely resembles free verse, even though it utilises occasional rhymes and half-rhymes.

If this was Donegal
I wouldn’t be able to breathe
for fear of swallowing stars…

A Watery City

by Jean Bleakney

‘A Watery City’ engages with themes of friendship and journeying, significantly how they are affected by the passage of time.

The poem's free verse allows the reader to experience the free and relaxed manner in which the narrator engaged with her friend as well as embodying the free and flowing movement of the river Lee.

Well if I’d known how many bridges there were in that city

I’d have worried for your soul and I’d never have written

Hope the prose is flowing as effortlessly as the Lee if

I’d considered the sea. I hadn’t reckoned on reversible rivers.

“Take me anywhere” (from Hermetic Definition: ‘Red Rose and a Beggar’)

by Hilda Doolittle

In “Take me anywhere, anywhere;” by Hilda Doolittle, the poet-speaker addresses a lover, expressing the way in which she takes refuge in their affection.

"Take me anywhere, anywhere;" is a good example of a free verse poem that follows its own rules for form and structure. However, it is not among the more well-known free verse poems, especially considering its short length. In addition, it follows the standard conventions of Hilda Doolittle's poetry, making it a bit less unique than some of her better-known and more unique free verse poetry.

Take me anywhere, anywhere;

I walk into you,


What now?

by Gary Soto

‘What Now?’ by Gary Soto is a contemporary poem that speaks to the universal experience of aging and learning.

This poem takes the form of free verse. It lacks a strict rhyme scheme or meter, allowing the poet to have more flexibility in expressing their thoughts and emotions. The use of free verse aligns with the poem's theme of shifting perspectives and the exploration of personal experiences. It provides the poet with the freedom to convey the speaker's journey from childhood wonder to adult contemplation in a fluid and organic manner without the constraints of traditional poetic structures.

Where did the shooting stars go?

They flit across my childhood sky

vAnd by my teens I no longer looked upward—

My face instead peered through the windshield

Peckham Rye Lane

by Amy Blakemore

‘Peckham Rye Lane’ by Amy Blakemore is a twenty-five line poem that is separated in stanzas of various lengths, many

A brilliant example of free verse that creates an unpredictable, fluid effect to mirror the narrator's experience of moving through the city.

The sun, today –

it leaks desperation,

Gunmetal droplets of perspiration

The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano

by B.H. Fairchild

‘The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano’ by B.H. Fairchild is a free verse poem about how the creative process can connect a father and daughter.

‘The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano’ uses free verse in a unique and interesting way, creating imagery with its verse structure and illustrating the lathe's turning with stanza breaks. In addition, punctuation plays a significant role in the poem's flow, creating a well-constructed, unique-sounding poem that represents the beauty of free verse very well.

The brown wrist and hand with its raw knuckles and blue nails

          packed with dirt and oil, pause in mid-air,

the fingers arched delicately,

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

by Tupac Shakur

‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete’ is a moving celebration of personal resolve against the backdrop of oppressive forces.

A simple and direct poem, Shakur utilises free verse in order to make his message as plain and clear as possible.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.


by Jean Bleakney

Jean Bleakney’s ‘Consolidation’ is a deeply personal poem about the act of rearranging the cowry shells that the speaker and her children gathered in the past.

In this poem, Bleakney uses free verse to maintain an unrestricted flow and to highlight how the speaker feels about her children gone apart.

Some sunny, empty afternoon

I’ll pool our decade’s worth

and more of cowrie shells

gathered from that gravel patch

Death of a Young Woman

by Gillian Clarke

Explore ‘Death of a Young Woman,’ where Clarke depicts how a loved one’s death lets a person free from their inward, endless suffering.

The absence of a fixed rhyming pattern and meter resonates with the underlying theme of Clarke's free-verse poem.

He wept for her and for the hard tasks

He had lovingly done, for the short,

Fierce life she had lived in the white bed,

For the burden he had put down for good.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

by Robert Duncan

‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ by Robert Duncan is often regarded as the poet’s best work. It analyzes the poet’s dream of a meadow while also exploring the new technique of projective verse.

‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ is a product of the 1950s in American poetics, using free verse structures to create rhythm and breath. Duncan is an excellent example of the way that free verse can still have a poetic cadence, especially thanks to his attention to rhyme and syllable sounds.

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,

that is not mine, but is a made place,

On the Beach at Night Alone

by Walt Whitman

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ by Walt Whitman is a powerful poem. In it, Whitman discusses how everything that has ever existed or will ever exist is connected.

This is a wonderful free verse poem written by Walt Whitman, widely considered the "father of free verse poetry." His work is credited with influencing a generation of writers to break away from traditional poetic structures.

A vast similitude interlocks all,

All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,

All distances of place however wide,

All distances of time, all inanimate forms,

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

by Robert Duncan

‘My Mother Would Be a Falconress’ by Robert Duncan explores a son and mother’s relationship through the lens of a falcon breaking free from his handler.

'My Mother Would Be a Falconress' is an excellent example of the literary merit of free verse. Duncan uses free verse to illustrate the speaker's gradual rebellion against his mother, his increasing frustration, and the images within the poem, all of which synthesize as a dream within the speaker's mind.

My mother would be a falconress,

And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,

would fly to bring back

from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,

In Memory of the Utah Stars

by William Matthews

‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.

The poem's free verse could mirror the manner in which life can be unpredictable and can fluctuate based on circumstances beyond most people's control.

Each of them must have terrified

his parents by being so big, obsessive

and exact so young, already gone

and leaving, like a big tipper,

Poem About My Rights

by June Jordan

‘Poem About My Rights’ by June Jordan is a one-stanza poem revealing a speaker’s thoughts on misogyny, sexism, and racism from their experience. It is celebrated for accurately portraying the struggles of women and men of color in a patriarchial and predominantly white society.

The poem is written in free verse. Doing so encourages the speaker to employ the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique, which is critical for this poem and it's choice of subject.

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear

my head about this poem about why I can’t

go out without changing my clothes my shoes

my body posture my gender identity my age


by Gillian Clarke

 ‘Sunday’ by Gillian Clarke was inspired by the poet’s personal experience of attempting to enjoy a Sunday morning but then being reminded of all the suffering that’s going on in the world. 

Clarke's use of free verse could showcase the easy, fluid nature of her morning, devoid as it is of rules or expectations.

Getting up early on a Sunday morning

leaving them sleep for the sake of peace,

the lunch pungent, windows open


by Frederick Seidel

‘1968’ describes the aftermath of a raucous Hollywood party. Seidel works into this context a broader critique of sociopolitical realities.

This is a fine example of how free verse can be used to produce a memorable effect. The “freedom” enjoyed does not preclude the presence of verses and combinations of noteworthy metrical sonority. The poem is also remarkable for its economy of expression. One of the difficulties of free verse is that (in contrast to pre-set forms) one doesn’t necessarily know where or when to stop. This is certainly not a problem here.

A football spirals through the oyster glow

Of dawn dope and fog in L.A.’s

Bel Air, punted perfectly. The foot

That punted it is absolutely stoned.

Air Raid

by Chinua Achebe

‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe is a poem that provides a glimpse into the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War using symbolism and dark humor.

Written in one short stanza, Achebe's use of free verse ensures the poem's chaotic subject matter is reflected in the unpredictability of its meter.

It comes so quickly

the bird of death

from evil forests of Soviet technology

A man crossing the road

Another Insane Devotion

by Gerald Stern

‘Another Insane Devotion’ by Gerald Stern is about a man reflecting on his life experiences. His memories, while not always easily understood, help him see the value of the choices he has made.

This is a free verse poem. It does not follow a particular rhythm or rhyme scheme. It also does not have any breaks between stanzas. The entire story unfolds in a single sequence of 57 lines. This structure lends a smooth, dreamlike quality to the memories that the speaker describes.

This was gruesome—fighting over a ham sandwich

with one of the tiny cats of Rome, he leaped

on my arm and half hung on to the food and half

hung on to my shirt and coat.

My Grandmother’s Houses

by Jackie Kay

‘My Grandmother’s Houses’ by Jackie Kay is a thoughtful recollection of youth and a young speaker’s relationship with her eccentric grandmother, who is forced to move homes.

The poem's six stanzas are all written in free verse, possibly mirroring the unstructured and chaotic nature of the grandmother's life as observed by the child.

She is on the second floor of a tenement.

From her front room window you see the cemetery.

The Snowman on the Moor

by Sylvia Plath

‘The Snowman on the Moor’ explores the turbulent and abusive relationship between the speaker (presumably Plath herself) and her male spouse.

This is a free verse poem, meaning the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are divided into tercets, or sets of three lines, none of which consistently conform to a standardized pattern. Like many of Plath's poems, this poem is a great example of how free verse adds a feeling of unpredictability to a text.

Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners:

She flung from a room

Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors

City of Orgies

by Walt Whitman

‘City of Orgies’ by Walt Whitman is a poem written by the celebrated American poet Walt Whitman. The poem is a reflection on the city of Manhattan and Whitman’s experiences in the midst of its bustling urban culture. 

This poem is an example of free verse poetry, a form that emerged in the 19th century and rejected the traditional rules of meter and rhyme. Whitman's poetry is characterized by its flowing, natural rhythms and its use of repetition and parallelism.

City of orgies, walks and joys,

City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one day

make you illustrious,

Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your specta-

cles, repay me,

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