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Blank Verse & The Endecasillabo

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Italian Verse

Blank Verse is a genre of poetry that gives the hint of form without the restraints. It is called Blank Verse because the end of the line is "blank", it has no rhyme. It is especially suited to long narrative verse because of the lack of rhyme or prescribed break in line number.  However just because there is no end rhyme, other rhyme elements such as assonance, alliteration and consonance enrich the sound and should not be ignored. Also rather than being confined to a specified number of lines in a stanza, it is strophic. The breaks come at the conclusion of a thought as in prose, a paragraph. One of the challenges is to maintain the meter while allowing the lines to flow into one another. Enjambment and caesura play a large part in the success of the form.

Blank Verse first appeared in Italy during the Renaissance as an unrhymed variation of the Endecasillabo, a Medieval Italian verse in unrhymed hendecasyllabic lines which never really gained popularity. The unrhymed, metered verse was imported to England by Harry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517 -1547) in the 16th century. The form was made popular by Shakespeare and Milton as the primary frame for dramatic as well as non-dramatic poetry. It is the form of Hamlet's soliloquy. Technically Blank Verse could refer to any unrhymed metric verse, however traditionally it is the unrhymed, iambic pentameter verse of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats, Browning and Frost. It's popularity with it's proponents speak well for the form.

The elements of Blank verse are:

  1. narrative poetry, tells a story. It can also be used in dramatic poetry to develop a personality or to characterize, both are usually written in the 3rd person. Occasionally it is adapted to lyrical works such as the sonnet but its better suited to long verse.
  2. accentual syllabic verse, primarily iambic pentameter.
  3. composed in strophic (lines grouped in thought units much like paragraphs in prose) rather than stanzaic (lines grouped in uniform set numbers) form, there is no set poem length.
  4. unrhymed.
  5. composed with the use of caesura and enjambment which are critical to the success of of the form. An occasional period or comma at the end of a line is OK but it is considered better technique to begin and end a sentence within the line as long as the lines are 5 metric feet and the strophe is endstopped.
    This Living Hand by John Keats 1819

    This living hand, now warm and capable
    Of earnest graspin, would, if it were cold
    And in the icy silence of the tomb,
    So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
    That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood                       
    So in my veins red life might stream again,
    And thou be conscience – calmed --- see here it is ---
    I hold it towards you.




    Robert Frost, Sower byJudi Van Gorder

    Some forty years ago, I saw him stand
    up next to J.F.K. and heard them call
    him Poet Laureate. He read aloud
    from shaking paper held in wrinkled hands.
    I don't remember any words he spoke,
    it was his gravel voice that stayed with me.
    I had an inkling then I witnessed steel
    and still I hear him now, the harness bells
    and swinging birches, sounds connecting voice
    and pen. He planted a seed in me that day,
    a need to share this vivid world in verse.



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