Poetry and Prose

July 10, 2007 at 2:18 pm 7 comments

Is prose any different from poetry?

In general, if we are to judge on the basis of statistical evidence, the answer is a resounding yes. Let us not formulate definitions and kill the very spirit of art. Let us instead launch a discourse — an approach that is argumentative as well as unshackled.

Most often, poetry creates images — abstractions, surreal perspectives, emotional surges, etc. In this process of highlighting imagery, poetry has often slipped into a celebration of irrationality. We shall refrain from analyzing that as well. Prose, on the other hand, deals with narratives that are, more often than not, vastly sequential. In fact, I do not know of a single writing in prose where the instantaneous micro cosmos created is not sequential. The narration as a whole may be any projection whatsoever. Even the most brilliant among the proses are canvases with individual elements precisely placed to make a consistent whole. Some, like Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, are unmatched in their human appeal, while other popular writings like The Lord of the Rings — in spite of its meticulous creation — remain relatively insipid artistic ventures.

The difference lies not in their narration, not in their vocabulary, not in their stylizations, and not even in the creative capacity of their authors. The creative capacity, as we commonly understand it, is a mere tool. Greatness of a creation lies in the greatness of the reactions it evokes. The magnitude and intensity and honesty of the imminent thought forms constitute the greatness of an artistic creation.

It is either the paucity of our language or the complexity or subtlety of the thought form that gives birth to wordless cerebrations and abstract images that sometimes transcend visual boundaries. The creative impetus of prose lies in the indication of such images. Poetry, on the other hand, expresses such images independently and sometimes in stark singularity. In some sense, we may even consider the images of poetry to be externally imparted on the reader while prose, generally, results in a totally intrinsic maturing of the image.

The complexity of human nature is a stupendous and awe-inspiring image. It is a canvas so vast that the mere comprehension of its existence evokes reverence. It is this image that is created in the reader by The Brothers Karamazov. Claustrophobia and helplessness are images catalyzed by Kafka’s writings. Name any novel that has succeeded in creating a stimulus in you. It would have done so without ever directly presenting the stimulus itself to the reader.

There are, of course, very many prose creations that transgress these typical boundary in ways unique to them. It has been said about Abanindranath Tagore (uncle of Rabindranath Tagore) that he “paints with words”. Juan Ramon Jimenez‘s Platero Et Me (Platero and I) — though technically speaking prose — is intuitively closer to poetic imageries. Some of the short stories by Samuel Beckett are more poetry than prose — albeit remaining staunch reminders of the absurd school of thought.

The difference between prose and poetry is not the difference between a documentary film and an art film (please accept the usage of “art film” here . . . you know what I mean by that). It is not the difference between a persons portrait and his passport photograph. The difference is in the manner of presentation of imagery. Prose nurtures, manipulates and most importantly, catalyzes the images formed by the reader. Poetry is the interpretation (and hence appreciation) by the reader of an external image.

© Ritwik Banerjee

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Poetry and Prose by
Ritwik Banerjee is licensed under a
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Entry filed under: art, literature, perspective, Poetry, prose.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. krkbaker  |  July 11, 2007 at 2:06 am

    Wow that makes a lot of sense. No one has explained this to me in awhile.
    Great post.

  • 2. Shyma  |  July 11, 2007 at 4:19 am

    What a well written crisp article. Thanks Ritwik.

  • 3. shy  |  July 11, 2007 at 5:36 am

    that is probably the most clear and most rational part of u speakin.. its interesting.
    although when i did think about it i dint quite find the need to differenciate between the two, they are two differnt strings of words and sometimes analysing is not required… in my head..
    but as u know analysing anything isnt really required.. in my head…

  • 4. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 11, 2007 at 6:20 am

    You have a nice head!! Just think with your heart. To be honest, I hardly analyze a piece of art — be it a poem, a novel, a painting or a film. It is only after my instincts savour it do I go ahead with the analysis. You know me, I cannot help moving into that phase!

  • 5. spasmicallyperfect  |  July 11, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Strange, as I was reading your lines, I couldn’t help but wondering why on earth we (humans) need to spend so much time analysing things, put them into drawers or be in the process of figuring out which drawer to place it in.
    I know, half of academia would not exist if we didn’t have that craving.
    Still, the older I get the harder it becomes to follow some other human’s guidelines. I remember reading an essay of Herman Hesse on poetry and agreeing with his sense of not being able to distinguish anymore between good and bad poetry, cause as you commented, his heart enjoyed samples of both of them…..
    Interesting post nevertheless.
    And by the way, thank you for your visit. I’ll be back.

  • 6. harmonie22  |  July 11, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for your kind comments on my last poem! This is a pretty good read & delineation between prose and poetry.

  • 7. antisocialist  |  July 12, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Tolstoy, admitting an obvious distinction between a schoolbook and a Pushkin poem, believed the question to be ultimately unanswerable. But Tolstoy was a poor philosopher, as even his admirers, many of them, attest. Auden defined poetry as “beautiful speech … language at its best.” T.S. Eliot said that poetry is “rhythmic language.” The difference, I think, is one of style: prose can legitimately be described as “poetic” if the emphasis is on such things as description, euphony, rhythm, and attention to detail. I’ve recently written a piece called “The Truckdriver” you might be interested in. It explores those boundaries. Also, “Car Crashes were invented in America.” Click on my name. And thank you. I really enjoyed your post.


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