This will be the most important and exploratory chapter of the book. The above question has taxed the interpretive resources of critics and poets since the first decade of this century and has resulted in a rich variety of solutions. None of these can claim to be a comprehensive, abstract definition of what free verse is or of how it works and many remain as angry attempts to dismiss the validity of their competitors. Free verse is the most significant contribution by poetry to the formal aesthetics of modernism, and in the following pages I shall attempt to provide a thorough account of how it began, why it persists and of its structural and functional identity. In the process we will be forced to reconsider the standard, conventional perceptions of how language works and more significantly of how poetic language can claim to be different from its non-poetic counterparts.
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