Early Twentieth-Century Terms for New Verse Forms (‘free verse’ and others) in Japanese and Arabic

  • Scott Mehl Independent Scholar, 4752 Tatton Park Circle 2B, Winston Salem, NC 27103
Keywords: free verse, modern Japanese poetry, modern Arabic poetry, poetic form


In the first half of the twentieth century, when Japanese and Arabic poets began writing free-verse poetry, many terms were proposed as labels for the new form. In addition to the calques on “free verse,” neologisms were created to name the new poetry. What is striking is that, in these two quite different literary spheres, a number of the proposed neologisms were the same: for example, in both Japanese and Arabic the terms prose poetry, modern poetry, and colloquial poetry were proposed (among others) as alternatives to the label free poetry. This essay provides an annotated list of the neologisms in Japanese and Arabic, with a list of English terms for comparison; and by referring to the contemporary Japanese and Arabic criticism on the topic of poetic innovation, this essay attempts to explain the similarity between the Japanese and Arabic neologisms. In short, the Japanese and Arabophone arguments in favour of adapting the free-verse form were based on similar premises regarding modernity, freedom, and a vision of literary history that was rooted in an evolutionary theory of genre development.


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