Blank Verse is poetry that does not rhyme; however, it does have iambic pentameter, which refers to a rhythm where you have an unstressed syllable immediately followed by a stressed syllable. So, when you consider blank verse, think of it more as a 'beat,' like a heartbeat. For example, a heartbeat rhythm goes something like this: Ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM ba BOOM. Here, you can see an unstressed syllable, 'ba', followed by a stressed syllable, 'BOOM.' In the study of literature, this pattern of 'ba BOOM' is referred to as an iambic foot. Pentameter tells us that there are five 'pentameter' feet to a line or, as in our example, five 'ba BOOM's per line. It is estimated that up to three-quarters of the world's poetry is written in blank verse.
Types of Blank Verse
While iambic pentameter is the most common form of blank verse, there are other types. These types include Trochee Blank Verse, Anapest Blank Verse, and Dactyl Blank Verse.
- Trochee Blank Verse has a stressed/unstressed syllable rhythm.
- Anapest Blank Verse's rhythm is composed of unstressed/unstressed/stressed syllables.
- Dactyl Blank Verse has stressed/unstressed/unstressed syllables.
So while blank verse usually uses iambic pentameter, it can be written in any meter and have no exact number of lines.
The Difference Between Blank Verse and Free Verse
It is important not to confuse blank verse poetry with free verse poetry, as free verse follows no specific literary rules and has no meter or set rhythm. Free verse is meant to represent freedom from literary rules, closely mirroring our natural speech patterns. Blank verse employs meter or rhythm.
John Milton's Paradise Lost is an example of a poem done in blank verse. This literary device is also used for monologues. This is where one character speaks their thoughts to an audience. One of the most famous monologues in history is from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which begins: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
Then will I headlong run into the earth;
Earth gape! On, no, it will not habor me!
You stars that reigned at my nativity,
Whose influence hath alloted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into the entrails of yon laboring clouds,
That when you vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven.
(The clock strikes the half hour)
An, half the hour is past! ‘Twill all be past anon!
- Christopher Marlowe