Blank Verse

Blank verse is a type of poem that consists of a regular meter but does not contain a specific rhyme scheme. It means the lines of a black verse poem are metrical but they don’t rhyme together.

Facts about Blank Verse

  • In most cases, blank verse is composed of iambic pentameter. However, some blank verse poems are written in trochaic, dactylic, or anapestic meter.
  • It is the most common and influential form of English poetry since the 16th century.
  • According to Paul Fussell, three-quarters of English poems are written in blank verse.
  • Blank verse is also called heroic verse as most of the classical poets used this form in their epic poetry.
  • The first English play in which black verse was used is Gorboduc. It was written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville in 1561.


Features

Let’s quickly have a look at the important features of blank verse:

  • It has metered but unrhymed lines.
  • A blank verse in iambic pentameter consists of five iambs per line. Each foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
  • It also contains some metrical variations or inconsistencies.


Famous Usage of Blank Verse

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe was the first English author who popularized the form. Let’s have a look at how Marlowe utilizes this form in the first few lines of his tragedy Doctor Faustus:

Not march/-ing in/ the fields/ of Thra-/sy-mene,

Where Mars/ did mate/ the war/-like Car/-tha-gens;

Nor spor/-ting in/ the dal/-li-ance/ of love,

In courts/ of kings/ where state/ is o/-ver-turn’d;

Nor in/ the pomp/ of proud/ au-da-/cious deeds,

In-tends/ our Muse/ to vaunt/ her hea/-v(e)nly verse:

On-ly/ this, gen/-tles,—we/ must now/ per-form

The form/ of Faus/-tus’ for/-tunes, good/ or bad:

And now/ to pa/-tient judg/-ments we/ ap-peal,

And speak/ for Faus/-tus in/ his in/-fan-cy.

The excerpt is in regular iambic pentameter with unrhymed lines. Here, Marlowe uses the following variations: the first foot of the fifth line is trochaic and elision is used in the last foot of the sixth line.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare achieved prominence by using this form in most of his plays. For example, let’s have a look at a few lines of Hamlet and how Shakespeare uses the form.

To be,/ or not/ to be,/ that is/ the question:

Whe-ther/ ’tis nob/-ler in/ the mind/ to suff(e)r

The slings/ and ar/-rows of/ out-ra/-geous fort(u)ne,

Or to/ take arms/ a-gainst/ a sea/ of troubl(e)s

And by/ op-posing/ end them./ To die/—to sleep,

No more;/ and by/ a sleep/ to say/ we end

The heart-/ache and/ the thou-/sand natu-/ral shocks

That flesh/ is heir/ to: ’tis/ a con-/sum-mation

De-vout-/ly to/ be wish’d./ To die,/ to sleep;

This excerpt from Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech is in regular iambic pentameter. Shakespeare uses a few elisions to metrically structure the lines.

Other Famous Blank Verse Poems

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