Elements of Poetry that Differ from Drama and Novel

"When you write in prose, you cook the rice. When you write poetry, you turn rice into rice wine. Cooked rice doesn't change its shape, but rice wine changes both in quality and shape. Cooked rice makes one full so one can live out one's life span . . . wine, on the other hand, makes one drunk, makes the sad happy, and the happy sad. Its effect is sublimely beyond explanation." - Wu Qiao 
The elements of poetry that differentiate it from the other major genres of literature, drama and the novel, give us a better understanding of poetry. With some suitable eyes, a reader is able to indicate as well as demonstrate the nature of these elements and their contribution to the effectiveness or quality of a poem. The elements – imagery, rhythm, sound and diction –are the vehicles that the poet utilizes to convey his thoughts and emotions as well as delight his readers. Read More: How to analyze a poem: Technicality &  Ethics

Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria emphasizes that point and mentions the difference between prose and poetry: “A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition.” Both use words. The difference between a poem and a prose composition cannot then lay in the medium, for each employs the same medium, words. It must, therefore, ‘consist in a different combination of them, in consequence of a different object being proposed.’ A poem combines words differently, because it is seeking to do something different. In fact, poetry is the oldest of the three major forms of literature with roots deep in our heart. The impulse responsible for man’s creation of poetry, whether oral or written, is as varied as there are individual differences and individual situations of life. However, three main motivations are generally discernible by critics, namely: Imitative (Mimetic): The innate human instinct to imitate things, which one can observe even in young children and monkeys.  Aesthetic/Emotional: The natural pleasure of recognizing good or effective mimicry. This is why Aristotle referred to poetry as “an imitative art”. Musical: The impulse or instinct for tune, music and rhythm as means of expressing and thus giving vent to emotions. These motivations by and large would apply in the consideration of other literary and even plastic art forms but they assume greater significance in the study of poetry.

It is difficult to distinguish between poetry and prose. Poetry is now practiced without the use of rhyme. Blank verse used by Shakespeare in his later stage of dramatic career approximates to prose. There is an interaction between prose and verse, and this interaction, as T. S. Eliot says is a condition of vitality in literature (The use of Poetry, and The use of Criticism). Modern Verse libre is not prose poem. The rejection of rhyme is not an attempt at facility; on the contrary, it imposes a much severe strain upon the language. Rhyme removed, much ethereal music comes up from the word. Modern poets have shown that metre and rhyme are not essential to poetry. Blank verse has metre, but no rhyme. It is written in Iambic pentameter. Verse libre has an internal rhythm which differentiates it from prose. However, there cannot be a single definition that will be comprehensive enough to accommodate the various shades of opinions and schools of thought regarding the exact nature of the genre, poetry. While one cannot correctly adjudge one definition as superior, better or more comprehensive than another, it is true that each of them has its point of emphasis which in turn places it in one or the other of the great literary/creative debate over content, style and effect. It is thus clear that Edgar Allan Poe’s conception of poetry   emphasizes style or form over content and effect while, on the other hand, both William Wordsworth and Edwin Arlington Robinson focus more attention on content and effect in their definitions to reflect their English and American Romantic pedigrees respectively. In this regard, we should take particular note of Emily Dickinson’s own idea of poetry whose essential criterion is the effect it has on her and is capable of having on a reader. In a final analysis, one cannot fault any one of these definitions given the special interests and period fascinations that shape them.
However, many prose compositions have poetic qualities, and poetry has prosaic qualities. A good deal of what we regard as prose is, in essence, poetry, and a good deal more of what we commonly regard as poetry is in essence, prose. Even a composition with rhyme and metre has no poetic fire and again a composition without rhyme and metre is instinct with poetry. As for example the verse lines: “No more the rising sun shall gild the morn/Nor ev’ning Cynthia fill her silver born” have no poetry in It — it does not evoke the picture and resonance in the mind. But such prose passage as “the love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” is as evocative as poetry is. It is clearly evident that many of the beautiful passages in the king James version of the Bible (1611), though they are not in metrical form are more eloquently poetical than all the rhymed couplets in existence. Read More: How to analyze a poem: Technicality &  Ethics 
“And when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grass-hopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail, because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets. (12th  Chapter of Ecclesiastics)"
Here are pictures, symbols, images, phrases haunted with the accumulated connotations of man’s centuries of experience with life and death. Many passages of English prose from the writing of Ruskin and Carlyle glow with poetic fire. Synge’s prose play  Riders to the Sea  is called a poetic drama because its language has the pulsations of verse, the symbolic significance, and contrapuntal depth of poetry: “They are altogether this time, and the end is come. May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley’s soul, and on Michael’s soul, and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and Shawn, and May He have mercy on my soul, Nora and on the soul of every one is left living in the world.” Cadences are often counterpointed in a parallel structure:

‘For the tide’s turning at the green head

And the hooker’s tacking from the east.”

The most tangible characteristic of poetry is rhythm secured by regularity of metrical pattern. Much prose has every element of poetry except the regularity of metrical pattern. But all poetry including verse libre has some pattern of recurrent rhythm. Read More: How to analyze a poem: Technicality &  Ethics A poet uses words in such a way as to suggest more than what they mean. A prose writer aims at making statements, at giving information and conveying ideas and facts. In poetry, language is used to move and thrill, and arouse deeper awareness of things. Over the gates of Hell, Dante says, are these words:

“All hope abandon,  who enter here ."

The significance of these words stir the imagination of generations. Milton’s words are simpler, but invested with greater poetic intensity and with tragic note: “Hope never comes that comes to all.”

Many prose -writers use words which arouse our feelings and our imagination by their evocative power. As for example James Joyce writes “But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires”. (Araby). It has the image pattern of poetry but not its rhyme pattern. H. E. Bates in his Ox gives this pregnant sentence: ‘Money is money, death is death, the living are the living. The living were the future”. The words are simple, but the combination and the arrangement and the structure produce a poetic resonance and depth of meaning. Again, Joseph Conrad’s beautiful suggestive sentence has the richness and evocative power of poetry: “In the merciless sunshine the whisper of unconscious life grew louder, speaking in an incomprehensible voice round the dumb darkness of that human sorrow.” (The Lagoon)

Prose has different styles — plain prose, rhetorical prose, subjective prose, prose with psychological notations, and poetic prose. Eighteenth century prose writers like Addison and Steele practiced simple, precise plain prose. Dr. Johnson’s prose is elegant but sometimes bombastic and circumlocutory. Burke writes rhetorical prose: “If reconciliation fails, force remains, if force fails, nothing remains”. (Antithetical style). Bacon is a master of rhetorical prose: ‘some books are to be chewed, some to be swallowed, and some to be disgusted’; Prose is sometimes metaphorical as in ‘they are the current coin and counters of verbal intercourse, and to refuse them, and to deal only in freshly-minted coin is possible only to a few autocrats.’ (The Times Literary Supplement) Read More: How to analyze a poem: Technicality &  Ethics

There is the subjective and personal style in Charles Lamb’s prose:

“We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence and a name

— and immediately waking, I found myself quietly seated in my bachelor arm-chair where I had fallen asleep ....“. The prose of D. H. Lawrence, Conrad is orchestrated with psychological notations.

There is difference between good prose and bad prose just as there is difference between good poetry and bad poetry. In good poetry, substance, manner, rhyme and metre are fused into significant form. Bad poetry is that poetry which has rhyme jingles and technical brilliance but which is empty of meaning. Bad prose is clumsy, intricate and involved, while good prose is precise, elegant and free from ponderousness. Prose style is adapted to the matter that the writer deals with. As in good poetry, matter and style should be adjusted to each other. Milton writes in a grand style to achieve the grandeur of his subject-matter which deals with heaven, earth and hell. Similarly, Addison and Steele speak about ordinary manners and morals of men and society, and his style is easy and precise. D. H. Lawrence in his story A Peasant and the Cock (The Man who died) writes in an easy, colloquial prose. Victorians like Carlyle and Ruskin often write in a cumbrous metaphorical style. Conscious heaviness makes the style artificial. Good prose style is characterized by the lack of affectation and deliberateness in the cultivation of style. Style would come naturally and will be dictated by the subject-matter. Read More: How to analyze a poem: Technicality &  Ethics
Prose is a particular form of art. Remy de Gourmont suggests that the qualities of style appear in verse and prose indiscriminately. This view accounts for the rejection of structural distinctions between prose and verse. M. Albert Thibaudet makes a subtle distinction between prose and verse. In prose, each phrase creates for itself the law of its rhythm, in verse each phrase creates for itself a personal reason for submitting to the existing law. The art of writing, according to the French critic Remy de Gourmont depends on the union of visual image and the emotions associated with it. This is as much applicable to poetry as to prose. A bad writer of prose uses stale expressions—expressions which are not evoked by the visual image. Words charged with individual and original meaning are used by a few great writers. Good prose like good poetry is creative. Critical prose is business like, straightforward and clear. But literary prose must have the basic elements of art. It must not be cliche-ridden, clumsy and affected. It must have words that create individual, original meaning. Words evoke the pictures. Prose used for information, explanation or instruction must be plain, direct and precise. But literary prose demands different sensibility and different technique. It has image, rhythm, like poetry. Prose of art has to be distinguished from the prose of business and expediency. Even utilitarian or scientific prose is good prose if it is made vital with picture and emotion. As for example, Gibbon’s prose in The Fall and Decline of Raman Empire and Sir Julian Huxley’s prose in Towards a new Humanism have the vividness and charm of good prose. A good prose writer uses personal idiom. Good prose must have structure of thought. Thought must progress, finally, the quality of mind determines the style.

Ardhendu De


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