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Prose vs. Verse: An Overview

User Mark time23 May,2019

Have you ever spent an entire night reading a novel you just couldn’t put down? We all have done that at some point in our lives, haven’t we? Any form of creative literature is marked by an arrangement of words and sentences in a specific form to impart in us certain emotions. The writers tweak and mould the words is a particular way so that it reaches deep down and stirs our soul. They use several literary devices to convey the overflowing emotions. Two most significant form of writing style that are frequently used by wordsmiths are verse and prose.

Prose Vs Verse

Prose vs. Verse

Prose is a specific form of writing style used in literature, which does not follow a formal metrical structure. It consists of sentences and paragraphs that follow a natural flow and ordinary grammatical structure instead of a rhythmic structure that is common in poetry or verse.

Verse, on the other hand, is a genre of literature that is based on a particular form of writing style, i.e., it creates a rhyme.

Prose Definition 

Prose refers to a typical form of literature that follows a pragmatic and direct approach and is made up of several short paragraphs.

Prose Example 1. “The State of the Union Address” is a prose speech delivered early in the year by the sitting president of the United States.

Prose Example 2. “The Declaration of Independence” is a prose document signed by prominent American colonists who wished no longer to be under British rule.

Verse Definition

Verse is a form of literature, which is a collection of metrical lines and stanzas that consist of a musical rhythm and pattern.

What Is a Verse in a Poem

The word verse originally came from the Latin word “versus,” which means “a turning.” In Middle English, the term used to signify a single line of a psalm. Its scope grew broader and was used to refer to a single line of any poetry or poem. 

Generally, a verse encompasses three possible meanings in poetry. It can be a single line of metrical writing, an entire piece of a poem written in meter or just a stanza of a poem. Poets frequently use three main types of verse are:

Rhyming/metered verse: Meter is a poetic device that delivers a linguistic sound pattern for a verse. With a slight variation of length in the stressed and unstressed syllables, the verse gives poetry its rhythmical and melodious sound.

Blank verse: This type of verse is written in Iambic pentameter and it does not follow any specific rhyme scheme. We will discuss the various elements of the blank verse with extensive examples shortly, in a separate section of this blog.

Free verse: Free verse is a modern form of poetry that does not use any consistent meter, rhyme or musical pattern. This type of verse often tends to follow the patterns of natural speech. However, poets often say, “Its only freedom is from the tyrant demands of the metered line” as it still maintains the poetic conventions to a certain degree.

Free verse does not follow a set of rules or pattern. This unique characteristic has often inspired poets to use free verse in their work, as it easily camouflages their fluctuation of thoughts and aids a free flow of their stream of consciousness.

Free verse can be summed up by the famous line by T.S. Elliot. It goes as,

“No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.”

Example:

“Fog” by Carl Sandberg
Free Verse
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on

Prose vs. Poetry

Almost every form of writing shares the common goal: communicating a message to the readers in a way that it stirs their emotions. However, the modus operandi of the communication keeps changing with every genre of literature.

While some writers prefer to express themselves through poetry, some prefer to communicate through prose. Let us look at some of the differences between these two forms of communication.

Some of the differences between prose and poetry are as follows:

Prose Poetry
Every day writing like blogs, newspapers, articles are written in prose Poetry is used to describe something special in an artistic manner  
Prose is written in a straightforward fashion Poetry is an expression of emotions through rhythmic composition of sentences. It contributes to a specific sound and feel of the words being expressed
The ideas and arguments are expressed in paragraphs in an organised manner The ideas are often delivered in an abstract manner and arranged in stanzas
There are no specific line breaks. Sentences stretch from one end of the page to the extreme right margin. Poetry uses line breaks to emphasise on a specific idea. The lines do not follow a generalised pattern and can be as short as one word or even a letter.
The paragraphs of a prose look like large chunks of sentences The stanzas of a poem vary according to the intention of the poet

Table: Difference between prose and poetry

The best trick to figure out the fundamental difference between a poetry and prose is to study the writing pattern. Prose is written in an ordinary language and has distinctive narrative structure.  On the contrary, poetry has a typical aesthetic writing pattern consisting of rhyme and rhythm.

Many a time writers use a mixture of prose and poetry in their writing. Prose poems were first written during the 19Th century as an act of rebellion to the predominance of Alexandrine metered lines. Breaking away from the typical practice of writing in metered form, the poets like Charles Baudelaire and Bertrand wrote block of texts that resembled prose but behaved like poetry. Combination of prose and poems were also a unique characteristic of Shakespearian plays.

If we look at Shakespeare’s plays, we will find that the mixture of verse and prose adds a layer of special effect to his works. All his plays follow a basic pattern. The funny characters in his play often speak in prose whereas the high born and lofty characters speak in verse. He also uses a form of unrhymed phrases in his plays written in iambic pentameter that does not follow any typical rhythmic pattern. It is known as blank verse.

What is a blank verse? Definition and examples

Blank verse poetry definition: Blank verse is an unrhymed measure of iambic decasyllable in five beats that is commonly used in epic poetry and dramatic poetry.

Blank verse is also known as heroic verse, as it was adopted from unrhymed Greek and Latin heroic verses. Rucellai introduced the term “versisciolti” in his early works that were later translated into English as “blank verse.”

Henry Howard was the first person to use this form of poetry in his translation of Aeneid at around 1554-1557.

Extensive use of blank verse can be found in Swedish, Russian and Polish literature.

Sofonisba (1515-1515) written by Gian Giorgio Trissino, and Le api (1539) written by Giovanni Rucellai are some of the famous examples of literary pieces composed in blank verse.

Thomas Sackville & Thomas Norton’s Gorboduc (first performed 1561) was the very first English tragic drama that included blank verse.

Christopher Marlowe took the musical qualities and emotional power of blank verse to a whole new level in his plays Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, and Edward II

Use of blank verse by the pioneers of literature

The poetic expressions of Shakespeare found a new horizon in his later plays like Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and The Winter’s Tale, which has frequent use of blank verse. He conveyed the subtlest human delight, grief and perplexity by altering the established methods of rhythms.

Blank Verse Examples In The Works Of Eminent Poets

But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must…

                                                                 —Hamlet by William Shakespeare

You stars that reign’d at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into entrails of yon labouring clouds, …
So that my soul may but ascend to Heaven …

                                                                                —Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,   
With loss of Eden, ’till one greater Man..

                                                                   —Paradise Lost by John Milton

After a long period of debasement, John Milton restores blank verse to its former grander in his 1667 epic Paradise Lost. He incorporated all manners of stress, variation of pause, line length and paragraphing to give his work a descriptive and dramatic effect.

Some of the most common blank verse examples:

James Thomson’s descriptive poem The seasons
Edward Young’s Night thoughts
William Wordworth’s The prelude
Shelly’s drama The Cenci
John Keats Hyperion
Robert Frost’s A Masque of Reason

After a thorough study, it becomes clear that prose is used for a much wider range of medium and has a diverse range of purpose and uses. Verse is generally considered to be a romantic form of writing that uses abstract and metaphorical images in a rhythmic pattern to convey emotions.

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