Line Breaks in Free Verse, a Handy Guide

Angela Topping

I’ve recently been asked how to do line breaks in free verse, so I thought I would share it with my readers. As T.S. Eliot said: ‘No verse is libre for the man who wants to do a good job.’ (Though of course he meant women too!)

In formal verse (written with a set rhyme and metre) the convention allows the sense to run on from line to line and stanza to stanza; the flexibility of this is vital to prevent the pattern becoming a straightjacket. These enjambed lines are read over the line break, because the form is dictating where the line break is made, not the sense or the voice.

Free verse deals very differently with line breaks. The poet has an opportunity to manipulate them and use them purposefully. Free verse has a subtler rhythm than formal verse, and though is does include rhymes, they are not…

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