The prosodic description of free verse, in France as elsewhere, has long been fraught with difficulty: free verse is a web of shifting rhythmic effects, as relative as they are elusive. This book attempts to construct methods of analysis, on the basis of a study of the history and theory of free verse in France. After an initial exploration of the scansional problems posed by a free-verse poem (by Alain Fournier) and of the assumptions which might be made about its nature, Clive Scott looks for answers and verifications in the history of free verse's early years and in contemporary theoretical documents. How far was free verse in France an inevitable outcome of the 'liberalization' of regular verse? How far was free verse the result of fundamental changes in the way French rhythms were perceived? What did free verse owe to the popular song, to the prose poem, to translations? How far does the practice of free verse coincide with its history? Clive Scott's principle concern is to establish, on these foundations, working methods of scansion, and to show how they can be applied in the interpretation of specific poems.
Accordingly, the second part of the book is devoted to extended commentaries on poems by Rimbaud, Laforgue, Claudel, and Apollinaire.