What’s The Difference?
I thought I would start with what I consider the very basics. Unfortunately, language is hard, and the basics can be confusing. If you were like me you probably have some incertitude about which is which. Yeah, you know one often deals with poetry, but is that prose or verse? Can it ever be both? The confusion between prose and verse ends now! And the battle to find out which is better begins! Well, I’ll just save you the trouble and say neither. Both forms of language have their merits in literature, poems, novels, plays, and other forms of communication. Surely, one is better than the other in some aspects, though…Let’s see!
This sentence you are reading right now is in prose. This entire post so far has been prose. Prose exhibit grammatical structure and a natural flow of speech. It consists of full sentences which can then be made into paragraphs. It’s how the majority of us speak and write, both casually and professionally. Including in newspapers, books, films, and any other form of dialogue, discourse, and writing. Prose ignores aesthetic appeal and rarely contains meter or rhyme. It’s all about that grammar. A verse, we’ll see, is quite the opposite. There is a place for prose in poetry, however.
A verse is a line of poetic composition that takes into account metrical and/or rhyming schemes. A verse can be systematic and formulaic compared to the ordinary conversational speech of prose. It is the most common form used in poetry. There are also two different types:
Free Verse which does not have to follow a fixed meter pattern or rhyme. Probably the most open form of poetry.
Blank Verse which is written in a metrical form, without rhyming. Almost always in iambic pentameters (uh oh fancy English major word. Just think Shakespeare’s writing, speaking of which…)
Prose and Verse, Together??
Regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English Language, poet and playwright, William Shakespeare was not afraid to combine prose and verse in his plays. Switching between the two created a juxtaposition by separating the ordinary (prose) from the profound (verse) emotions of characters, or by distinguishing between lower class and higher class (verse speaking) characters. Shakespeare used this to create another medium of expression. How cool?
If this left you feeling deep in thought, hand-to-head like that picture of Shakespeare at the top, you’re not alone. Luckily, poetry doesn’t require fancy iambic pentameters, or rhyming, or prose. Having basic knowledge of prose and verse is simply helpful in understanding poetic composition. So hopefully you learned a thing or two. I know I did!
I’ll end with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet and critic, who with perhaps a singe of sarcasm said:
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in their best order (12 July 1827)