Blank verse refers to poetry that does not rhyme but follows a regular meter, most commonly iambic pentameter.
History of blank verse:
Blank verse first appeared in 16th century Italy during the Renaissance, an adaptation of unrhymed poetry from ancient Greece and Rome. It was later introduced to England in the 1550s by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey with his translation of Virgil’s The Aenid. Playwright Christopher Marlowe and other dramatists from this period helped develop and increase the prominence of blank verse in the English language. Since then it has been widely used in dramatic and epic poetry.
For at least half a century blank verse was considered the standard for many English writers, including William Shakespeare and John Milton. Shakespeare’s earlier works like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Milton’s Paradise Lost include some of the most famous examples of blank verse in literature.
Most blank verse in English is written in iambic pentameter: a traditional form of rising meter consisting of lines containing five iambic feet, or ten syllables. Shakespeare famously used iambic pentameter across his writings, such as in this excerpted monologue from Act 1 of Macbeth:
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon gainst self-slaughter! O God, O God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
After being adapted by the English romantic poets like William Wordsworth and John Keats, blank verse as a form began to be utilized with more flexibility and looseness. The likes of Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost refitted the tradition for the 20th century with modern poems that include “The Idea of Order at Key West” and “Home Burial,” respectively.