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The majority of poets today choose to work in free verse, though there are many fine poets still working in meter.Having loosely established what verse is, it should now be emphasized that verse is not what we mean by the word "poetry." Devices such as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, meter, and regular line length are elements of verse which aid poets in producing patterned arrangements of language called "poems," yet, supplemental to these, certain qualities of imagination, of emotion, and of language itself must be added before we can properly call a piece of writing by the name of "poetry." Poetry is considered a higher thing than mere verse, and for good reasons.
The word "verse" comes to us from the Latin , a "turning," and denotes the turning from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line.
For the ancient Greeks and Romans, as for us today, the line was the basic unit of poetry, just as the sentence is the basic unit of prose.
The American poet Emily Dickinson, though shrinking from offering a definition of poetry, once confided in a letter, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." A well-known British poet, A. Housman, could identify poetry through a similar response.
He said that he had to keep a close watch over his thoughts when he was shaving in the morning, for if a line of poetry strayed into his memory, a shiver raced down his spine and his skin would bristle so that his razor ceased to act.
This was vital to poetry's existence before the invention of writing.
Homer's vast epics, the , were oral compositions committed to and transmitted by human memory before they were eventually written down.This formal patterning, considered aside, for a moment, from poetry's higher aims or its subject matter, has long been one of the chief identifying hallmarks of poetry.Roughly speaking, the devices by which poets achieve these patterned arrangements of language are called the elements of verse.(If unrhymed, it is called blank verse, as in Milton's Paradise Lost or Shakespeare's dramatic verse.) The exception to this is free verse, which abandons metrical regularity altogether.Yet it, too, "turns" on the basic unit of the line and may rightfully be called verse.Having established the meter, we may also note the end words of each line rhyme in an alternating scheme we can denote as "A-B-A-B." Those end words are "shore," "end," "before" and "contend." So, we have an example here of rhymed iambic pentameter, a charming snippet of metrical verse from the pen of William Shakespeare.Verse is poetic composition in regular meter, whether rhymed or not.When we see a poem printed on a page, we might notice another kind of pattern that cues us we are not looking at standard prose: those ragged right-hand margins, indicating the lines must stop there and nowhere else.Whether we hear a poem read aloud or read it on a page, it ought to be clear we are experiencing a special , differing from ordinary speech or prose writing.This is an important point, to which we'll want shortly to return, but let's consider verse and its patternings a little farther.It is surprising to some people to learn that more than ninety percent of the poems in any standard anthology of English poetry are written in formally structured, highly patterned metrical verse.