free verse Poetry organized to the cadences of speech and image patterns rather than according to a regular metrical scheme. Its rhythms are based on patterned elements such as sounds, words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, rather than on the traditional prosodic units of metrical feet per line. Free verse, therefore, eliminates much of the artificiality and some of the aesthetic distance of poetic expression and substitutes a flexible formal organization suited to the modern idiom and more casual tonality of the language.
Although the term is loosely applied to the poetry of Walt Whitman and even earlier experiments with irregular meters, it was originally a literal translation of vers libre, the name of a movement that originated in France in the 1880s. The first English-language poets to be influenced by vers libre, notably T.E. Hulme, F.S. Flint, Richard Aldington, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot, were students of French poetry. Imagism, started in England in 1912 by Aldington, Pound, Flint, and Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), was concerned with more than versification, but one of its principles was "to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome." Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens all wrote some variety of free verse; the versification of Williams and Moore most closely resembles that of the vers libre poets of France.