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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

(Flounce of French Guipure lace from the late
17th- and early 18th-centuries, at the State
Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia)

The conversation below takes place between a philosophy teacher and Monsieur Jourdain, the middle-class son of a cloth merchant in the comedy The Bourgeois Gentleman by Molière (1622-1673), French playwright and actor. The play follows Monsieur Jourdain as he is preparing, with the help of tutors, to climb up the social ladder to the aristocracy.

Monsieur Jourdain (MJ): I must confide in you. I’m in love with a lady of great quality, and I wish that you would help me write something to her in a little note that I will let fall at her feet.

Philosophy Teacher (PT): Very well.

MJ: That will be gallant, yes?

PT: Without doubt. Is it verse that you wish to write her?

MJ: No, no. No verse.

PT: Do you want only prose?

MJ: No, I don’t want either prose or verse.

PT: It must be one or the other.

MJ: Why?

PT: Because, sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse.

MJ: There is nothing but prose or verse?

PT: No, sir, everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose.

MJ: And when one speaks, what is that then?

PT: Prose.

MJ: What? when I say, “Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my nightcap,” that’s prose?

PT: Yes, sir.

MJ: Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it.


Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

~ Howard Nemerov (1920-1999), American poet

1 comment:

Charles Van Gorkom said...

excellent! You have an eye for the treasures, that's for sure!