Writing Mini-Lessons: Free Verse Poetry

We have been writing free verse poetry so far because of its flexibility and the ease of its form, since it has very few rules, relying on line breaks and word choice to guide the reader.  Many free verse poems have the cadence of conversational speech.  Modern free verse began with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. Others who are known for their free verse poetry are Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Mary Oliver, and Billy Collins, to name a few.

In free verse poetry, there are no set rules: no specific rhyming scheme, syllable count, metric pattern, line arrangement, or theme. The poet is “free” to write however s/he wants—”free” to use any kind of line, stanza, and rhythm that best expresses the emotion and content of the poem. Nevertheless, nothing is left to chance, from which words are used to where to break a line. Each free verse poem is filled with intentionality, the deliberate, meaningful choices made by the poet in the service of enhancing meaning

Here are some samples of free verse poetry:

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;

Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;

The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;

The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;

The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—

Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;

The day what belongs to the day—

At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

~ Walt Whitman

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

~ William Carlos Williams

Fog

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

~ Carl Sandburg

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you

Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops

Let the rain sing you a lullaby

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk

The rain makes running pools in the gutter

The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night

And I love the rain.

~ Langston Hughes

A Dog and His Master

As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

~ Billy Collins

When Death Comes

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver