Blank verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter—is familiar to many as the form of Shakespeare’s plays and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Since its first use in English in the sixteenth century, it has provided poets with a powerful and versatile metrical line, enabling the creation of some of the most memorable poems of Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Frost, Stevens, Wilbur, Nemerov, Hecht, and a host of others. A protean meter, blank verse lends itself to lyric, dramatic, narrative, and meditative modes; to epigram as well as to epic. Blank Verse is the first book since 1895 to offer a detailed study of the meter’s technical features and its history, as well as its many uses. Robert B. Shaw gives ample space and emphasis to the achievements of modern and postmodern poets working in the form, an area neglected until now by scholarship.
With its compact but inclusive survey of more than four centuries of poetry, Blank Verse is filled with practical advice for poets of our own day who may wish to attempt the form or enhance their mastery of it. Enriched with numerous examples, Shaw’s discussions of verse technique are lively and accessible, inviting not only to apprentice poets but to all readers of poetry.
Shaw’s approach should reassure those who find prosody intimidating, while encouraging specialists to think more broadly about how traditional poetic forms can be taught, learned, practiced, and appreciated in the twenty-first century. Besides filling a conspicuous gap in literary history, Blank Verse points the way ahead for poets interested in exploring blank verse and its multitude of uses.