Prose is writing distinguished from poetry by its greater variety of rhythm and its closer resemblance to the patterns of everyday speech. The word prose comes from the Latin prosa, meaning straightforward. This describes the type of writing that prose embodies, unadorned with obvious stylistic devices. Prose writing is usually adopted for the description of facts or the discussion of ideas. Thus it may be used for newspapers, magazines, novels, encyclopedias, screenplays, philosophy, letters, essays, history, biography and many other writings.
Prose generally lacks the formal structure of meter or rhyme that is often found in poetry. Although some works of prose may happen to contain traces of metrical structure or versification, a conscious blend of the two forms of literature is known as a prose poem. Similarly, poetry with less of the common rules and limitations of verse is known as free verse. Poetry is considered to be artificially developed, "The best words in the best order," whereas prose is thought to be less constructed and more reflective of ordinary speech. Pierre de Ronsard, the French poet said that his training as a poet had proved to him that prose and poetry were mortal enemies.
The status of prose has changed throughout its history. Much of a society's early literature is written in the form of poetry. Prose was often restricted to mundane and everyday uses such as legal documents and yearly records. When a country's literature produced other forms such as philosophy or history these works expanded the realm of prose, but fiction does not often appear in prose until much later. Poetry is still often regarded as a higher form of literature to prose but the relatively late development of the novel offers competing and often superior examples of prose.
Prose was at one time synonymous with dull, unimaginative or laboured writing and the word "prosaic" has developed from prose to mean anything boring. Now the word prose tends to be reserved for particularly well written pieces of literature and even limited to small sections of a larger work even though prose still also means any writing that is not poetry. Prose that aspires to the highest quality but in fact is too elaborate and overblown is called purple prose.
Prose varies considerably depending on the purpose of the writing. As prose is often considered to be representative of the patterns of normal speech, many rhetorical devices are used in prose to emphasize points and enliven the writing. Prose which aims to be informative and accurate such as history or journalism usually strives to use the simplest language possible to express its points although this language often needs to get very advanced to describe a difficult issue. Facts are often repeated and reiterated in various ways so that they are understood by a reader but the excessive use of this technique can often make a serious piece of writing seem like a polemic.
In fiction prose can flourish and take on many forms. A skilled author can alter how he uses prose throughout a book to suggest different moods and ideas. A thriller often consists of short sentences with "punch" made up of equally short words which suggests very rapid actions and heightens the effect of a very fast moving plot. Conversely, longer sentences are used to slow down the action of a novel and give a panoramic overview of scene. Prose can vary to tell a reader how they should feel about events in a story; fear, humour, uncertainty, or to tell the reader about a character's age, intelligence, opinions or personality although dialogue is often excluded from being thought of as prose. There are many techniques within fiction and the mark of a great author is perhaps their ability to manipulate prose and even invent their own unique prose style to effectively communicate what they wish to say.
When a poem is translated from one language into another, particularly if it is an epic poem, the poem is often converted into prose. This is for two main reasons: not only does it allow the reader to understand the plot more easily but also the translator is considered to be exercising less unwelcome creative input if writing in prose. A translation should be an unchanged representation of the sense of the original but to impose the rhyme and meter structures of a different language is likely to significantly alter the poem.
Last updated: 10-16-2005 08:59:15