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Prose is the form of written language (including written speech or dialogue) that follows the natural flow of speech, a language's ordinary grammatical structures, or typical writing conventions and formatting (thus including academic writing). It differs from traditional poetry, where the format consists of verse: writing in lines that follow rhythmic metre or a rhyme scheme. The word "prose" first appears in English in the 14th century. It is derived from the Old French prose, which in turn originates in the Latin expression prosa oratio (literally, straightforward or direct speech). [1]


Works of philosophy, history, economics, etc., journalism, and most fiction (an exception is the verse novel), are examples of works written in prose. Developments in twentieth century literature, including free verse, concrete poetry, and prose poetry, have led to the idea of poetry and prose as two ends on a spectrum rather than firmly distinct from each other. The British poet T. S. Eliot noted, whereas "the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure." [2]


Latin was a major influence on the development of prose in many European countries. Especially important was the great Roman orator Cicero (106–43 BC). [3] It was the lingua franca among literate Europeans until quite recent times, and the great works of Descartes (1596–1650), Francis Bacon (1561–1626), and Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) were published in Latin. Among the last important books written primarily in Latin prose were the works of Swedenborg (d. 1772), Linnaeus (d. 1778), Euler (d. 1783), Gauss (d. 1855), and Isaac Newton (d. 1727).

Latin's role was replaced by French from the 17th.- to the mid-20th century, i.e. until the uptake of English:

For about three hundred years French prose was the form in which the European intelligence shaped and communicated its thoughts about history, diplomacy, definition, criticism, human relationships — everything except metaphysics. It is arguable that the non-existence of a clear, concrete German prose has been one of the chief disasters to European civilisation. [4]


Prose usually lacks the more formal metrical structure of the verses found in traditional poetry. It comprises full grammatical sentences (other than in stream of consciousness narrative), and paragraphs, whereas poetry often involves a metrical or rhyming scheme. Some works of prose make use of rhythm and verbal music. Verse is normally more systematic or formulaic, while prose is closer to both ordinary, and conversational speech.

In Molière's play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme the character Monsieur Jourdain asked for something to be written in neither verse nor prose, to which a philosophy master replies: "there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse", for the simple reason that "everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose". [5]

American novelist Truman Capote, in an interview, commented as follows on prose style:

I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence— especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don't mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that's all. [6]


Many types of prose exist, which include those used in works of nonfiction, prose poem, [7] alliterative prose and prose fiction.


Prose is divided into two main divisions:

Related Research Articles

Free verse is an open form of poetry, which in its modern form arose through the French vers libre form. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any musical pattern. It thus tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech.

Latin literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and other writings written in the Latin language. The beginning of formal Latin literature dates to 240 BC, when the first stage play in Latin was performed in Rome. Latin literature would flourish for the next six centuries. The classical era of Latin literature can be roughly divided into the following periods: Early Latin literature, The Golden Age, The Imperial Period and Late Antiquity.

In poetry, metre or meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poetry</span> Form of literature

Poetry, also called verse, is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language − such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre − to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, a prosaic ostensible meaning. A poem is a literary composition, written by a poet, using this principle.

Prose poetry is poetry written in prose form instead of verse form, while preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis, and emotional effects.

In poetic metre, a trochee is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, in qualitative meter, as found in English, and in modern linguistics; or in quantitative meter, as found in Latin and Ancient Greek, a heavy syllable followed by a light one. In this respect, a trochee is the reverse of an iamb. Thus the Latin word íbī "there", because of its short-long rhythm, in Latin metrical studies is considered to be an iamb, but since it is stressed on the first syllable, in modern linguistics it is considered to be a trochee.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alliterative verse</span> Form of verse

In prosody, alliterative verse is a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal device to indicate the underlying metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The most commonly studied traditions of alliterative verse are those found in the oldest literature of the Germanic languages, where scholars use the term 'alliterative poetry' rather broadly to indicate a tradition which not only shares alliteration as its primary ornament but also certain metrical characteristics. The Old English epic Beowulf, as well as most other Old English poetry, the Old High German Muspilli, the Old Saxon Heliand, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, and many Middle English poems such as Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Layamon's Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthur all use alliterative verse.

Poetry took numerous forms in medieval Europe, for example, lyric and epic poetry. The troubadours, trouvères, and the minnesänger are known for composing their lyric poetry about courtly love usually accompanied by an instrument.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spoken word</span> Type of performance art

Spoken word is an oral poetic performance art that is based mainly on the poem as well as the performer's aesthetic qualities. It is a 20th-century continuation of an ancient oral artistic tradition that focuses on the aesthetics of recitation and word play, such as the performer's live intonation and voice inflection. Spoken word is a "catchall" term that includes any kind of poetry recited aloud, including poetry readings, poetry slams, jazz poetry, pianologues, musical readings, and hip hop music, and can include comedy routines and prose monologues. Unlike written poetry, the poetic text takes its quality less from the visual aesthetics on a page, but depends more on phonaesthetics, or the aesthetics of sound.

Articles related to literature include:

Old Norse poetry encompasses a range of verse forms written in the Old Norse language, during the period from the 8th century to as late as the far end of the 13th century. Old Norse poetry is associated with the area now referred to as Scandinavia. Much Old Norse poetry was originally preserved in oral culture, but the Old Norse language ceased to be spoken and later writing tended to be confined to history rather than for new poetic creation, which is normal for an extinct language. Modern knowledge of Old Norse poetry is preserved by what was written down. Most of the Old Norse poetry that survives was composed or committed to writing in Iceland, after refined techniques for writing were introduced—seemingly contemporaneously with the introduction of Christianity: thus, the general topic area of Old Norse poetry may be referred to as Old Icelandic poetry in literature.

Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse is a book by G. Burns Cooper, and published by Stanford University Press in 1998. It examines the rhythm of free verse, with particular reference to the works of T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, and James Wright. In attempting to understand the difference between free verse and prose, Burns Cooper analyses both the poems and prose writings of the authors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of literary terms</span>

This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.

This is a glossary of poetry terms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of poetry</span>

Poetry as an oral art form likely predates written text. The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung, employed as a way of remembering oral history, genealogy, and law. Poetry is often closely related to musical traditions, and the earliest poetry exists in the form of hymns, and other types of song such as chants. As such, poetry is often a verbal art. Many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are recorded prayers, or stories about religious subject matter, but they also include historical accounts, instructions for everyday activities, love songs, and fiction.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to poetry:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Verse (poetry)</span> Single metrical line in a poetic composition

A verse is formally a single metrical line in a poetic composition. However, verse has come to represent any grouping of lines in a poetic composition, with groupings traditionally having been referred to as stanzas.

A line is a unit of writing into which a poem or play is divided: literally, a single row of text. The use of a line operates on principles which are distinct from and not necessarily coincident with grammatical structures, such as the sentence or single clauses in sentences. Although the word for a single poetic line is verse, that term now tends to be used to signify poetic form more generally. A line break is the termination of the line of a poem and the beginning of a new line.

Poetic devices are a form of literary device used in poetry. Poems are created out of poetic devices via a composite of: structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal, and visual elements. They are essential tools that a poet uses to create rhythm, enhance a poem's meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling.

The poetry in The Lord of the Rings consists of the poems and songs written by J. R. R. Tolkien, interspersed with the prose of his high fantasy novel of Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings. The book contains over 60 pieces of verse of many kinds; some poems related to the book were published separately. Seven of Tolkien's songs, all but one from The Lord of the Rings, were made into a song-cycle, The Road Goes Ever On, set to music by Donald Swann. All the poems in The Lord of the Rings were set to music and published on CDs by The Tolkien Ensemble.


  1. "prose (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary . Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  2. Eliot, T. S. Poetry & Prose: The Chapbook, Poetry Bookshop London, 1921.
  3. "Literature", Encyclopaedia Britannica. online
  4. Clark, Kenneth (1969). Civilisation: A Personal View. London: BBC and John Murray. p. 220. OCLC   879537495 via repetition in the TV series of the same name.
  5. "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme". English translation accessible via Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  6. Hill, Pati. "Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17". The Paris Review. Spring-Summer 1957 (16). Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  7. Lehman, David (2008). Great American Prose Poems. Simon and Schuster. ISBN   978-1439105115.
  8. "Prose poem". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
  9. Braund, Susanna. "Prosimetrum". In Cancil, Hubert, and Helmuth Schneider, eds. Brill's New Pauly. Brill Online, 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  10. 1 2 Brogan, T.V.F. "Prosimetrum". In Green et al., pp. 1115–1116.
  11. "A Word a Day – purple prose". Retrieved 26 December 2014.

Further reading