Prose vs. poetry — it seems like quite the intellectual battlefield, doesn’t it? Even if you’re not someone who reads a lot, you surely have an opinion when it comes to juxtaposing these two, and so does the next person, and the next five people beyond. And though there are no official surveys out there, you and I can safely assume that there are just as many people who love the verse as there are those who prefer the words of prose.
So, which of the two is better? What side should you pick in the prose vs. poetry battle, and why? Well, before you can decide on that, you’ll need to define your terms. In other words, you have to know what makes prose prose, and what makes poetry — poetry.
Prose vs. Poetry: Defining the Terms
What Is Prose?
Broadly speaking, prose is the basic form of spoken or written language. It’s how you talk to people in everyday life, or how you write letters, emails, etc. It also covers most of what you read, such as news articles, blog posts, short stories, novels, and so on.
As a form of literary work, prose is a bit more free-flow than poetry. Authors can jot down their thoughts in a comprehensive manner. The main purpose of prose is usually to inform the reader of something, though it can also evoke different emotions. That’s why the language of prose is generally to-the-point and easy to understand.
Most works of prose follow a similar pattern of writing. Each sentence will start with a capital letter and end in one of many punctuation marks. In addition, sentences will follow the typical word order common for the language the prose is written in. Also, if there’s any dialogue, it’s written in a natural, relatable manner.
Obviously, not all prose contains those elements, but the vast majority of it does, including this very article.
Examples of Prose
As its name suggests, fiction deals with events that aren’t real, i.e. that the author of the piece made up for the purposes of the story. Works of fiction can vary in length and structure, including short stories, short-short stories (also known as flash fiction), novellas, novels, etc. In terms of the subject matter and/or genre, there are too many different types of fiction to count, including:
• Science fiction
Of course, each of these types and genres has an almost unlimited number of subtypes and subgenres, which often overlap.
Some of the most popular examples of fiction include works like Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Franz Kafka’s Trial, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, and any short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and Howard Philips Lovecraft.
Non-fiction prose includes every work that contains factual data. For instance, short forms of non-fiction include essays, reviews, literary criticism, news articles, articles specific to an industry that you might read on an official website, blog posts, instruction manuals, etc. Long-form non-fiction includes memoirs, biographies (as well as autobiographies), travel books, history books, self-help pieces, and others.
What Is Poetry?
Unlike prose, poetry can be a bit more restrictive when it comes to rules, but a bit more creative about the use of language. For example, a vast majority of poems are written in lines, which are then grouped in stanzas. Each new line starts with a capital letter and, most of the time, the lines follow a particular type of rhyme.
Poetry is also characterized by short, impactful sentences and emotive language that’s meant to evoke a particular feeling. As such, poets get a lot of creative freedom despite the genre’s limitations.
While most people can understand a work of prose after a single reading, they might have a hard time doing that with poems. After all, the whole idea behind the poem is to convey a hidden meaning which the reader ought to try and figure out. That’s why it might sometimes take pages and pages of written text to analyze a poem of just four or five lines.
Examples of Poetry
There are more than a few different types of poems across the globe, each with its own set of rules or lack thereof. The examples below only include some of the most popular forms that are still in use today.
Free Verse Poems
A typical free verse poem doesn’t contain any rhymes, so many people confuse it with prose. However, unlike prose, these poems still retain a lot of artistic freedom when it comes to sentence structure and the use of language.
Example of a free verse poem:
Somewhere beneath the stars
Yearning to fling upon me a blanket of dreams undreamt
With nowhere to run
And seldom a where to hide
And let me know
Whether or not that one grain of sand
That I had placed upon thy step
Had grown into a castle
And whether or not it’s a castle I can penetrate
To find you
Somewhere beneath the stars.
Regular Rhyming Poems
People tend to believe that rhyme is exclusively related to poetry. And while you can use rhyme and rhythm in prose, they definitely shine best when the poet knows their way around the verse.
Example of a rhyming poem:
The tree in my yard had lost its leaves,
Its branches lay bare. Its root system grieves
And yet here I am, obsessed with dry heaves.
I see the old tree, exposed to the rain,
And all of that water goes down the drain
As if the cosmos is that easy to explain.
Sonnets originated in Renaissance Italy and are probably the best-known examples of rhyming poetry. They became extremely prominent thanks to the works of Francesco Petrarch and, notably, William Shakespeare.
Typically, the sonnet would contain four stanzas, with the first two having four lines each and the last two having three. Throughout the centuries, different styles of rhyme were used, but the most prominent one is ABBA ABBA CDE CDE.
Example of a sonnet:
Scribing a sonnet isn’t easy work,
Most of the time you’ll be getting it wrong
And end up with an uninspiring song
Making you feel like somewhat of a jerk.
Rhyming ain’t easy, few will have that quirk
Artistic drought does tend to last too long
Especially when dealing with a throng
Of poem haters. Best to hide and lurk.
Yet, when you find that poem-loving lass
Eager to read what you have deemed to scribe
And greet that piece with earnest, loving grins
You’ll know how well it pays not to be crass
and allow strangers verses to imbibe
Since, after all, you’ll love those tiny wins.
Haiku is a type of traditional Japanese poem which only consists of three lines, each with a specific pattern of syllables. The opening and closing lines have five syllables, with the line in the middle consisting of seven. In addition, haiku would almost exclusively be about a particular image found in nature, expressing a moment during a specific season of the year.
Example of a haiku:
Flutters of the wings
Signal autumn’s early end
Limericks are a type of humorous poems that have a very specific rhyming pattern and contain five lines. At times, they can be very suggestive, sometimes even lascivious.
Example of a limerick:
There once was a fella called Stanley
And he wasn’t entirely manly
He wore women’s dresses
And caused some dudes stresses
When his dating app dubbed him as “Anne Lee.”
An acrostic is a poem where the first letters or syllables of each line form a word. Some poets choose to go the extra mile and employ the double acrostic (both the first and last letters form the same word). What’s more, you can even form entire sentences using the first words from each line.
Example of an acrostic:
Sometimes, life can be hard
Hard as a rock on a hill.
As told by many a bard
Rage is the death of one’s will.
Enter, then, child of the land,
Tell me what bothers your mind,
How can I give you a hand
If a hand I cannot find?
So, we have come to this point
Told and retold all anew
Ever the one to disjoint
Xenon lights shine a dim hue.
Tell me, did you notice?
Prose vs. Poetry: Which One Is Better?
To both poets and prose writers, as well as avid readers, the prose vs. poetry question is, in fact, a bit pointless. After all, comparing the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. What’s more, nearly every single poet is also a huge fan of prose works, and almost all prose writers have at least a few favorite poems they would often read.
So, to put it simply, the prose vs. poetry battle has no winner. Both forms of writing have their own strengths, their own rules, and, most importantly, their own artistic merit. And in order to appreciate both the spoken and the written word fully, you should embrace them both and expand your literary views as much as possible.