Robert Frost called free verse “playing with the net down.” And T.S. Eliot wrote, “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.” Yet Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and plenty of contemporary poets are among the many who have written beautiful work in free verse. But what are free verse poems, anyway, and why the controversy?
What Are Free Verse Poems?
Free verse is here defined as a poem with no set meter or verse that mimics natural speech patterns. Free verse poems can be short or long, contain sporadic rhymes or none at all, and be conveyed in spoken or written mediums. Because a free verse poem isn’t tied to any specific form, poets generally have more room to experiment with structure than they would with other styles.
Critics argue that since they contain no regular rhyme and meter, free verse poems are just glorified prose. But those who write or appreciate free verse feel that free verse has its own tools beyond meter or rhyme—like punctuation, line break, and vocabulary—that makes it just as legitimate of a poetic form as other styles.
The Best Free Verse Poems
Still confused about what free verse poetry encompasses and need a few examples? Check out these 50 exceptional free verse poems, from the famous to the up-and-coming and everything in-between.
1. “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
2. “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes
3. “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
4. “The Pool” by H.D.
Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?
5. “I Carry Your Heart with Me (I Carry It In My Heart)” by E.E. Cummings
6. “Risk” by Anaïs Nin
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
7. “Sloe Gin” by Seamus Heaney
The clear weather of juniper
darkened into winter.
She fed gin to sloes
and sealed the glass container.
When I unscrewed it
I smelled the disturbed
tart stillness of a bush
rising through the pantry.
When I poured it
it had a cutting edge
I drink to you
in smoke-mirled, blue-
black sloes, bitter
8. “Accent” by Rupi Kaur
9. “Anne Hathaway” by Carol Ann Duffy
‘Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…’
(from Shakespeare’s will)
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love—
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.
10. “The Crickets Have Arthritis” by Shane Koyczan
11. “The Good Life” by Tracy K. Smith
When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.
12. “Praise the Rain” by Joy Harjo
Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
13. “Typewriter Series #1950” by Tyler Knott Gregson
14. “In the Metro Station” by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
15. “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.
16. “Real Silence” by Atticus
17. “You Took the Last Bus Home” by Brian Bilston
you took the last bus home
don’t know how
you got it through the door
you’re always doing amazing stuff
like that time you caught a train
18. “Vacation” by Rita Dove
I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.
19. “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
20. “Fog” by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
21. “Persephone to Hades” by Nikita Gill
View this post on Instagram
I can see her saying this to him whilst they walk Cerberus through the Elysian Fields and it’s an image that hasn’t ever left my head. Wild, I know but I love it. Just a reminder here: there are many versions to the Persephone and Hades story. In some of those versions, he DID NOT kidnap her, and she chose to be with him because he was a loving, kind and powerful husband who respected her as an equal. I far prefer those versions than to the mainstream ones because if you look at Hades and Persephone’s relationship, those are the versions that make sense. Also Persephone was a BADASS. Google her. She was out there kicking ass and taking names and empowered enough to do so. Reclaiming stories and reinterpreting them from old misogynistic versions of myths is actually a deeply important part of current canon. ❤️Happy Valentines Day, my loves. #nikitagill #mythpoem #hadesandpersephone #valentines
22. “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath
23. “In the Hospital” by Chen Chen
My mother was in the hospital & everyone wanted to be my friend.
But I was busy making a list: good dog, bad citizen, short
skeleton, tall mocha. Typical Tuesday.
My mother was in the hospital & no one wanted to be her friend.
Everyone wanted to be soft cooing sympathies. Very reasonable
pigeons. No one had the tie & our solution to it
was to buy shinier watches. We were enamored with
what our wrists could declare. My mother was in the hospital
& I didn’t want to be her friend. Typical son. Tall latte, short tale,
bad plot, great wifi in the atypical café. My mother was in the hospital
& she didn’t want to be her friend. She wanted to be the family
grocery list. Low-fat yogurt, firm tofu. She didn’t trust my father
to be it. You always forget something, she said, even when
I do the list for you. Even then.
24. “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
25. “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich
26. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
27. “Autumn” by T.E. Hulme
A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.
28. “Theory of Motion (6), Nocturne” by Cam Awkward-Rich
29. “The Peace of Wild things” by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
30. “To the Desert” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.
31. “Overheard on the Titanic” by Austin Kleon
32. “Hurry” by Marie Howe
We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.
33. “How to Triumph Like a Girl” by Ada Limón
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.
34. “OCD” by Neil Hilborn
35. “Kissing in Vietnamese” by Ocean Vuong
My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door, your torso
would dance from exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there would be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent is relearned
and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
36. “Quilts” by Nikki Giovanni
Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure
No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold
I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my
I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past
I offer no apology only
When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That might keep some child warm
And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers
37. “Untitled” by Pavana
38. “The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born” by Nicole Sealey
Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.
39. “Hudson’s Geese” by Leslie Norris
“… I have, from time to time,
related some incident of my boyhood,
and these are contained in various
chapters in The Naturalist in La
Plata, Birds and Man, Adventures
among Birds ….”
—W.H. Hudson, in Far Away And Long Ago
Hudson tells us of them,
the two migrating geese,
she hurt in the wing
the length of a continent,
and he circling above
calling his distress.
They could not have lived.
Already I see her wing
scraped past the bone
as she drags it through rubble.
A fox, maybe, took her
in his snap jaws. And what
would he do, the point of his wheeling gone?
The wilderness of his cry
falling through an air
turned instantly to winter
would warn the guns of him.
If a fowler dropped him,
let it have been quick,
pellets hitting brain
and heart so his weight
came down senseless,
and nothing but his body
to enter the dog’s mouth.
40. “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg
41. “The Promise” by Jane Hirschfield
Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
their heads lower.
Stay, I said to the spider,
embarrassed for me and itself.
Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.
Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.
Stay, I said to my loves.
42. “Church” by Jacqueline Woodson
On Sundays, the preacher gives everyone a chance
to repent their sins. Miss Edna makes me go
to church. She wears a bright hat
I wear my suit. Babies dress in lace.
Girls my age, some pretty, some not so
pretty. Old ladies and men nodding.
Miss Edna every now and then throwing her hand
in the air. Saying Yes, Lord and Preach!
I sneak a pen from my back pocket,
bend down low like I dropped something.
The chorus marches up behind the preacher
clapping and humming and getting ready to sing.
I write the word HOPE on my hand.
43. “Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani
44.”Angels” by Mary Oliver
You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s
I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.
45.”Sad and Alone” by Maurice Manning
Well, this is nothing new, nothing
to rattle the rafters in the noggin,
this moment of remembering
and its kissing cousin the waking dream.
I wonder if I’ll remember it?
I’ve had a vision of a woman
reclining underneath a tree:
she’s about half naked and little by little
I’m sprinkling her burial mounds
with grass. This is the kind of work
I like. It lets me remember, and so
I do. I remember the time I laid
my homemade banjo in the fire
and let it burn. There was nothing else
to burn and the house was cold;
the cigar box curled inside the flames.
But the burst of heat was over soon,
and once the little roar was done,
I could hear the raindrops plopping up
the buckets and kettles, scattered out
like little ponds around the room.
It was night and I was a boy, alone
and left to listen to that old music.
I liked it. I’ve liked it ever since.
I loved the helpless people I loved.
That’s what a little boy will do,
but a grown man will turn it all
to sadness and let it soak his heart
until he wrings it out and dreams
about another kind of love,
some afternoon beneath a tree.
Burial mounds—that’s hilarious.
46. “Among the Stars” by Lang Leav
View this post on Instagram
Are you this girl or do you know someone like her? Please feel free to tag the girl with stars in her eyes ✨ xo Lang 🌷 My NEW book Love Looks Pretty on You is now available for pre-order via @amazon @barnesandnoble + @bookdepository LINK IN PROFILE #langleav #poetry #PopPoetry #bookstagram #writing
48. “Thank You” by Ross Gay
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
49. “Theories of Time and Space” by Natasha Trethewey
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.
50. “When Love Arrives” by Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye
We just covered 50 of the best classic and contemporary free verse poems. Still need more to soothe your poetry fix? Check out these 15 delectable poems about food and eating.