Sunday, January 15, 2012
(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.
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?
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.
BECAUSE YOU ASKED ABOUT THE LINE BETWEEN PROSE AND POETRY
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