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Is it Poetry or Prose?
© 1997 by Dorothy E. Robbins

Most modern day poetry lacks rhythm. But rhythm is as necessary to good poetry as a beating heart is to a living human being.

What is poetry? What is prose? Is there a difference? In a book written in 1883 we read, "A true poet will never confound verse and prose...." The person who wrote that was a poet. If you write poetry, you will know the difference between poetry and prose. But how many folks know this? Let's explore some of the differences between poetry and prose.

I'm sure the first thing you would say is that poetry has a different form from prose. "Prose," said Noah Webster, "is the natural language of man." He further stated that prose is loose and unconfined to poetic measures, as opposed to verse or metrical compositions.

The following is part of a book of memories. Is it prose?

Going Home

"Happiness at the thought of going home for such an occasion I liken to an autumn day. A warm glow fills my heart like slowly burning embers as I think of my dear parents who gave me life in the springtime of their love. The God-given joys I have known I liken to spring with new life bursting forth--my husband, children, grandchildren, beauty in nature, in song. The chill of winter reminds me of sorrows I have known, yet your love, God's strength through our Lord--Those have given me courage to go on. Remembering summer, I rejoice, at the warmth of happy times, fond childhood memories, the joy of daily living, in and for our Lord. Sharing life with friends and loved ones---All this I do because of you!"

Now let us look at it the way it was written in the book:

Happiness
at the thought
of going home
for such an occasion
I liken
to an autumn day.

A warm glow
fills my heart
like slowly burning embers
as I think
of my dear parents
who gave me life
in the springtime of their love.

The God-given joys I have known
I liken to spring with
new life bursting forth--
my husband, children, grandchildren,
beauty in nature, in song.

The chill of winter
reminds me of sorrows
I have known,
yet your love, God's strength
through our Lord---
Those have given me courage
to go on.

Remembering summer, I rejoice,
at the warmth of happy times,
fond childhood memories,
the joy of daily living,
in and for our Lord.
Sharing life with friends and loved ones---
All this I do
because of you!

How is the second composition different from the first? Both have a certain rhythm and beauty. Perhaps the second is easier to read. Perhaps the second helps one to "see" the things the writer is saying. But does it fulfill your idea of what a poem is supposed to be?

Look at this verse of a poem by the another author:

The Creator

He takes the scent of the softening ground
Where the first green blade pricks through,
He takes the reddening maple bough
A-slant against the blue,
He takes the cheer of the robin's song
And the flash of the blue-bird's wing,
The joy of prisoners set free,
And of these He makes the spring.

What do we see in this poem that is missing in the first composition? First of all, you probably noticed that there was a certain "swing" to the way the words sounded as you "screened" them though your mind. Did the rhythm itself help to make the picture real to you? Was the rhythm regular? Is it appropriate for this poem? Did it give you a pleasant sensation and add to the enjoyment of the poem? Is it so obvious that all you notice is the rhythm or is it simply like background music? What kind of rhythm is it? Rhythm is one of the things one notices when we analyze a composition. Do you think the rhythm fits the poem? The above compositions illustrate one difference between poetry and prose.

There is, however, another difference that you may have noticed even before you were aware of the difference in the rhythm. The pleasant sensation that the rhyming gave you as you read through the second. Not only do the rhymes at the end of the lines give a pleasurable feeling to one, they give a feeling of completeness and satisfaction. Then, did you notice that they also help keep the picture in your mind? Read it over again. A good poem gives more pleasure the second and subsequent times one reads it. There are poems I have read over and over, not only to myself, but to my children, my husband and others that just seem to improve with age! "The Creator" is one like that. "Listen" to the next verses:

He takes the sheen of the waving wheat
Where the slow cloud-shadows pass,
He takes the brook's soft rippling tune
And the daisied meadow's grass,
He takes the swish of the mower's scythe
In the noontide's hot, white glare,
The joy of labor and growing things,
And makes the Summer fair.

He takes the sound of the dropping nuts
And the scent of the wine-sweet air
In the twilight time of the year's long day,
When the spent Earth kneels in prayer,
He takes a thousand varied hues
Aglow in an opal haze,
The joy of the harvest gathered in,
And makes the Autumn days.

He takes the peace of the snowy fields,
Asleep aneath the clear, cold moon,
He takes the grace of the leafless trees
That sway to the wind's wild rune,
The frost-made lace on the window pane,
The whirl of the starry flakes,
The joy of the rest when the toil is done,
And the quiet Winter makes.

He takes the years,-the old, the new,
With their changing scenes and brief,
The close-shut bud and the fruiting bough,
Flower and fading leaf,
Grace and glory and lack and loss,
The song, the sigh, the strife,
The joy of hope and the hope fulfilled,
And makes of the years a life.

He takes our lives and the sum of them,
His will and the will of man,
Evil and good and dream and deed,
His purpose and our plan,
The thwarted lives and the crippled lives
And the things that give them worth,
The joy of life and the pain of life,
And He makes the Heavens and Earth.

("The Creator" by Annie Johnson Flint, quoted in Flint's Best Loved Poems, pub. by Evangelical Publishers, Toronto, Canada, 1948, p. 21.)

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum