August 9th, 2012The Curse of Free Verseby Joseph Pearce

Chesterton once wrote a funny poem entitled "A Curse in Free Verse", which was not really a poem at all because, well, it was written in free verse. This was the point of Chesterton's joke, though he also had great fun in the so-called verse "cursing" a host of other modern heretics alongside the modern poets. I leave visitors to the Ink Desk to find GKC's "curse" for themselves by browsing the seemingly omnisceint web. The reason I mention Chesterton's "free verse" is that I've just had the pleasure of reading P. G. Wodehouse's hilarious essay attacking the cult of free verse. It's short and well worth the five minutes investment of the time it takes to read it. Here's the link. Enjoy!

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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  • August 9 2012 | by James Morris

    Dear Joseph,

    What about The Waste Land? It is generally held to be a great 'poem'.

    Or take say Seamus Heaney. Now a lot of his stuff doesn't rhyme, is not in any definite form, doesn't 'scan' in the old sense. But, to me, it is intensley poetic.

    You could say Shakespeare's blank verse is actually 'free verse'.

    I say verse is a loose 'form' of poetry. Take Wordsworth's 'The Prelude'. It runs and runs and is not 'building' to a climax, you cannot take it at one sitting. It is a different 'poetic' experience from say reading the exquisitely formal 'Go Lovely Rose' by Edmund Waller....but they are BOTH poetic experiences.

    What maybe you lament is the lack of metre. But even there-it is not as easy to make a judgement. The psalms do not have a particular rythm or metre, but no-one would say the psalms are not poetry.

    I am not so sure Chesterton was as hostile as we think. I mean he was a great admirer of Walt Whitman. And Whitman was very loose.

    Eliot has had a deadly affect on modern poetry no doubt. What you are attacking really is the subjectiveness of modern poetry and I agree with you; 'free verse' has come to mean loose ramblings...

    Really I just want to say-that it is not all worthless.

    Reading back I think I have got confused with the words 'verse' and 'poetry'. I should have defind them. Maybe you could help me there?
  • August 10 2012 | by joseph pearce


    I love The Waste Land and have taught it often. I don't believe it is free verse in the worst and most egregious sense.

    In confessional mode, I will admit that several of the poems in my own book of verse, Divining Divinity, might be termed free verse.

    I think you have summed up the problem with your observation that free verse has come to mean loose ramblings. This was the hub and heart of Wodehouse's complaint.

    In any event, I posted it principally because it's both fun and funny!