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The Recovery of Metrical Verse

From before the time of Homer until the middle of the 19th century, almost all poets in the Western literary tradition wrote measured verse—that is, poems with a regular repeated rhythmical pattern.  Then, in a little over a hundred years, from Walt Whitman through the 1960’s, a new form of writing (free verse) fully emerged that not only challenged metrical verse but almost replaced it.  Thus, an art form that, for three millennia or more, had accommodated and helped bring into being the poetic works of Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Yeats was in danger of being lost.  Still, even during the heyday of the modernist revolt against traditional verse, a number of first-rate poets kept measured verse alive—W.B. Yeats (considered by many as the greatest poet of the modern period), Robert Bridges (poet laureate of England), Robert Frost (who famously compared writing free verse with playing tennis with the net down), and California-based poet Yvor Winters, whose shift from free to metrical verse in the late 1920’s attracted such poets as Donald Stanford, J.V. Cunningham, and Edgar Bowers, many of whose own students played a major role in what is now called the New Formalist Revival.  This new measured verse came into view in the late 1970’s with the publication of the first collections by such poets as Timothy Steele, who studied with J.V. Cunningham at Brandeis...

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