Patrick Biggs

PhD Student in English Literature

A History of Light Verse

Supervisors: Prof Harry Ricketts & Prof Heidi Thomson


In the nineteenth century, “light verse” served as a synonym for vers de société, a particular kind of verse “that deals with the relationships, concerns, and doings of polite, upper-class society” (Abrams, Glossary 193). In the twentieth century, however, a series of anthologists expanded the term’s definition so far that it became what Francis Teague in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics calls an “omnium gatherum,” embracing “folk poetry, nonsense verse, kitsch, and more” (799). My thesis begins by exploring the paratextual conversation these anthologists participated in as they sought to delineate this species of poetry. The following parts of the thesis trace the major formal developments in light verse, along with its changing relationship to received tradition, from Lord Byron’s Beppo (1818) to the present day. Besides Byron, other focal areas include nineteenth-century vers de société, nineteenth-century nonsense, and twentieth-century innovations in both Britain and America.


Patrick Biggs is a current PhD student. He completed his Master’s thesis on Coleridge’s conversation poems in 2012, and is now studying the development of light verse poetics from the nineteenth century to the present day.