What do the words free verse bring to mind? Do you imagine a scruffy-looking poet standing on a street corner, offering passersby scribbled poems on scraps of paper? If so, you've got the wrong definition of the word free in free verse. Free verse is unstructured poetry - poetry that refuses to follow traditional rules. The poet is free to make up his or her own rules. There is freedom in free verse!
Free verse seems contemporary, but it has been around for several hundred years. Walt Whitman was an American poet who excelled at writing free verse. He published a collection of free verse in 1855. It was called Leaves of Grass. One of his poems was called "I Dream'd in a Dream." It's our first example of free verse.
I DREAM'D in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the
whole of the rest of the earth,
I dream'd that was the new city of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love, it led
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.
Notice the lack of rhyme and meter, the way dreamed is spelled, and the capitalization of the word Friends. All those elements are acceptable in free verse.