Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Vol. 1. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958.
BLANK VERSE Blank verse is poetry that lacks rhyme, although it has a set rhythm, or meter. Early poetry generally rhymed, perhaps because it grew from a spoken tradition in which rhyme could aid in memorization. Later poets retained that traditional approach in brief poems such as ballads as well as those of epic length, such as Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), which recalls the pastorals of Virgil. However, playwrights of the 1500s retained the common rhythm of iambic pentameter, but sometimes dropped rhyme. Playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all adopted blank verse in their various dramas, retaining occasional heroic couplets, generally spoken for emphasis. This practice was also adopted by the playwright John Webster to memorable effect as in his The Duchess of Malfi (1613), which concludes with the solemn warning
Nature doth nothing so great for great men As when she's pleased to make them lords of truth:
Integrity of life is fame's best friend Which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end.
Cavalier and most Restoration poets retained the rhyme form, but the poet John Milton, writing later in the 17th century, adopted blank verse in his spectacular epics, Paradise Lost (1667) and Samson Agonistes (1671). Rhyme remained popular in the 18th century, as seen in multiple poems by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, but other poets used blank verse, such as Christopher Smart in his "My Cat Jeoffry" and James Thomson in "A Hymn on the Seasons." By the 19th century blank verse was commonly used, and with changing reader sensibilities in the 20th and 21st centuries, rhyme in poetry became rare.
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