vers libre, The Faber Book of Modern Verse, varied
a poetic mode given wide currency from around 1910 onward by the emergence of Imagism, whose practitioners sought, in F. S. Flint's words, to ‘compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome’. The versions of the Psalms in the Authorized Version, Walt Whitman's incantationally flexible measures, and the vers libre of Jules Laforgue and others were among the precedents for the rejection of predetermined metres characterizing the advent of poetic Modernism; in the attempt to make poetry more authentic in its relation to experience, the auditory rhetoric of strict forms was called into question along with the stock poetic diction and imagery of the nineteenth century. The achievement of T. S. Eliot in the carefully modulated lines of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was among the finest early examples of the subtlety and effectiveness of free verse. While Robert Frost stated that ‘free verse is like playing tennis with the net down’, Eliot insisted that the form did not involve an abandonment of discipline but rather increased the difficulty of satisfying the sensitive ear. Most verse describable as ‘free’ or ‘cadenced’ contains recurrent rhythmical effects which may be analysed in terms of traditional metrical feet and variations upon them. By 1936 Michael Roberts noted in the introduction to The Faber Book of Modern Verse that ‘it is very hard to draw a sharp line … between “free” verse and varied regular verse’, indicating the liberating effect of the development on poetic practice in general.
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