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PROSE

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 450 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PROSE, a word supposed to be derived from the Lat. prorsus, direct or straight, and signifying the plain speech of mankind, when written, or rhetorically composed, without reference to the rules of verse. It has been usual to distinguish prose very definitely from poetry (q.v.), and this was an early opinion. Ronsard said that his training as a poet had proved to him that prose and poetry were " mortal enemies." But " poetry " is a more or less metaphysical term, which cannot be used without danger as a distinctive one in this sense. For instance, an ill-inspired work in rhyme, or even a well-written metrical composition of a satirical or didactic kind, cannot be said to be poetry, and yet most certainly is not prose; it is a specimen of verse. On the other hand, a work of highly wrought and elaborately sustained non-metrical writing is often called a prose-poem. The fact that this phrase can be employed shows that the anti-thesis between prose and poetry is not complete, for no one, even in jest or hyperbole, speaks of a prose-verse. Prose, therefore, is most safely defined as comprising all forms of careful literary expression which are not metrically versified, and hence the definition from prorsus, the notion being that all verse is in its nature so far artificial that it is subjected to definite and recognized rules, by which it is diverted out of the perfectly direct modes of speech. Prose, on the other hand, is straight and plain, not an artistic product, but used for stating precisely that which is true in reason or fact. The Latins called prose sermo pedestris, and later oratio soluta, thus showing their consciousness that it was not poetry, which soars on wings, and not verse, which is bound by the rules of prosodical confinement. Prose, however, is not everything that is loosely said. It has its rules and requirements. In the earliest ages, no doubt, conversation did not exist. The rudest fragments of speech were sufficient to indicate the needs of the savage, and these blunt babblings were not prose. Later on some orator, dowered with a native persuasiveness, and desirous of making an effect upon his comrades, would link together some broken sentences, and in his heat produce with them something. more coherent than a chain of ejaculations. So far as this was lucid and dignified, this would be the beginning of prose. It cannot be too often said that prose is the result of conversation, but it must at the same time be insisted upon that conversation itself is not necessarily, nor often, prose. Prose is not the negation of all laws of speech; it rejects merely those laws which depend upon metre. What the laws are upon which it does depend are not easy to enumerate or define. But this much is plain; as prose depends on the linking of successive sentences, the first requirement of it is that these sentences should be so arranged as to ensure lucidity and directness. In prose, that the meaning should be given is the primal necessity. But as it is found that a dull and clumsy, and especially a monotonous arrangement, of sentences is fatal to the attention of the listener or reader, it is Cistern (pro pped)
End of Article: PROSE
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