The Case For Meter and Rhyme, Part 1

February 22, 2023 Elijah Perseus Blumov
The Case For Meter and Rhyme, Part 1
Show Notes Transcript


Introduction: The Burden of Proof

Part 1: The Case For Poetry in Prose

1. The Argument From Freedom

2. The Argument From Accessibility

3. The Argument From Spontaneity

4. The Argument From Natural Speech

5. The Argument From Organic Form

6. The Argument From Modernity 

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List of the most common metrical feet:
Iamb: weak-STRONG (u /)
Trochee: STRONG-weak (/ u)
Anapest: weak-weak-STRONG (u u /)
Amphibrach: weak-STRONG-weak (u / u)
Dactyl: STRONG-weak-weak (/ u u)
Cretic: STRONG-weak-STRONG (/ u /)
Pyrrhic: weak-weak (u u)
Spondee: STRONG-STRONG (/ /)

Versecraft: The Case For Meter and Rhyme, Part 1.




In the course of this episode and the next I hope to answer a vital question that faces the working poet. The question I’m not going to ask is: “which is the superior practice, metrical or non-metrical poetry?” To answer this question absolutely one way or the other is to be guilty of rash generalization. Instead, I’d like to answer a related but more subtle question, namely: which of the two—metrical or free verse—carries the burden of proof? 

What does that mean? Well, first we must assume— and it’s a large assumption— that the poet’s ultimate artistic objective is to create the highest quality work of which they’re capable. Poets with other ultimate artistic objectives I’m not concerned with here. Now, for those poets who do seek to create the best work possible, the question quickly becomes, “Which method of composition will enable me to produce my best work?” In the quest to find the ideal method, the poet comes at once to a crossroads: metrical or non-metrical composition? Now immediately, my listener will protest: why choose either/or? and of course it’s true that you never have to commit exclusively to one form of writing, and if your sole focus is creating the best poem possible in every circumstance, you shouldn’t. However, if what we desire is excellence above all, we will seek to discover a method of composition that will dependably offer us the most powerful, versatile tools of expression. Once we’ve discovered this method, while we will not commit to it dogmatically, it will require an exceptional situation for us to break from it. This is where the burden of proof comes in.

 Of these two mutually exclusive practices, metrical and non-metrical composition, one of them, based on the plentitude of its strengths and the deficit of its weaknesses, ought to be rationally preferred as the soundest method for composition— the standard method. To break from this standard method will then require, in every case, justification, proof of concept—a compelling reason why the benefits of the standard method are being sacrificed in a given instance. That which deviates from the standard method carries the burden of proof. 

What is truly astounding to consider is that, for thousands of years, there was worldwide consensus on what the standard method should be. On a planet of such variety, such drastic cultural difference, there was worldwide consensus: from Ancient Greece to Ancient Israel to Ancient China, from Medieval England to Medieval Persia to Medieval India, from Germany to Japan to Java, all poetic traditions used some form of meter. By meter I mean a principle of sound which organizes language into repeating sonic patterns that can be varied for expressive effect. Language that is organized according to a metrical scheme is what we call verse. Verse of course looks very different depending on the language and culture under discussion, but all verse, regardless of whether it’s based on syllable, accent, syntax, pitch, duration, or some other variable, accords with the definition I’ve just given. Prose, which doesn’t follow any sonic pattern, does not. 

As I say, from the dawn of civilization up until the early 20th century, and even well into the 20th century, verse was the standard method of poetic composition. In Europe alone, it was the method used for most literature in general up until the 18th century, a mere three hundred years ago. It was a truth universally acknowledged by nearly all cultures through all times that when it came to writing the most powerful and concentrated language, whether it be for lyrics, dramas, or narratives, verse was the most effective medium. In the course of this essay, I hope to demonstrate why this consensus existed. 

For the first time in history, sometime between the 1920’s and the 1960’s, this consensus, and by extension the burden of proof, was flipped on its head: The standard method of poetry is now asserted to be prose, and anyone who dares continue writing in meter is now obligated to explain themselves. Even more shocking than the fact that an understanding so universal and so stable could be overturned, is the fact that this upheaval was entirely due to the influence of a mere handful of disaffected white men in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Far from common sense or enlightened progress, the current dominance of prose in the world of poetry can best be regarded as a historical aberration, a freak accident that has cut off the current world of poetry from its entire lineage. 

The overwhelming popularity of music with rhyming lyrics, and especially the explosion of Hip-Hop music in recent decades, is proof however that rhythm and rhyme are basic pleasures of the human animal, and when that need can’t be supplied by poetry, the public will look elsewhere, to poetry’s detriment. Florentine farmers used to recite Dante to pass the time—what average blue collar worker today would even dream of reciting a contemporary poem to bring themselves relief from their labor? The popularity and influence that a figure like Dante used to command has been almost completely transferred to the Eminems and Kendrick Lamars of the world. 

The socio-cultural reasons why the prose revolution occurred are beyond the scope of this essay, but I would recommend the curious reader to check out Timothy Steele’s excellent study of this question, entitled Missing Measures. For my purposes, I’m interested only in comparing the trans-historical value of prose and verse as poetic methods. I’d like to begin in this episode by examining the case for prose as the standard method for poetic composition— what is usually in a poetic context called “free verse,” but “free verse” is a term that is so blatantly oxymoronic that I can’t use it in good conscience. A spade is a spade, and prose is prose. As I see it, there are at least six arguments that can be made in prose’s favor. Let’s address each of them in turn. 


Part I: The Case For Prose 


1.     The Argument From Freedom


The first is the most obvious and the most central: the argument from freedom. Choosing to write poetry in prose is essentially a negative act. It is to say: “I want to write without having to worry about adhering to any particular pattern. If I don’t have to worry about patterns, I can say whatever it is I want to say in whatever manner I choose.” Such a person may go further. They may say: “form and meter are actually restrictive of poetic expression—those who employ formal techniques will always sacrifice substance for style.” How should we respond to these claims? 

First, we should note that such an attitude is, at its root, anti-poetry. Even if we accept that there can be poetry outside of what we’ve identified as verse, if poetry is to be distinguished from regular prose at all, it must be because it is more highly organized: lineation and stanzaic division are, at the bare minimum, the way that we identify a poem as a poem rather than a mere passage of text. 

I should pause here, and mention that practitioners of so-called prose poetry—non-metrical poetry written in paragraphs— disagree, and claim that poetry is merely prose that is richer, more figurative, more dense, more emotionally charged, or more grammatically experimental than usual. By this standard though, poetry becomes not a genre but a feeling, a vague, undefinable, arbitrary area on a spectrum that ranges from technical writing on one end to ecstatic, avant-garde utterances on the other. What counts as poetry becomes, on this view, an impossible question: Is the lush stream of consciousness writing of Virginia Woolf or Clarice Lispector poetry? If so, why? If not, why not? What about the novels of Faulkner or Joyce or Melville? On this view, poetry becomes a meaningless, subjective term that has no relation to how the word poetry has been used historically. For those who care about poetry as an art form, this is not a conception worth consideration. 

To return then to our previous distinction: poetry is language that is objectively more highly organized than prose. Organization means formal constraint, and this is exactly what the advocate for freedom protests against. To commit to any scheme of organization is to limit one’s freedom. Freedom, taken to its logical extreme, rejects all impositions placed upon it—it seeks formlessness, and formlessness is not poetry. 

You might protest that I’m taking this idea of freedom too far, that I’m guilty of a slippery slope fallacy. My intention however is merely to provide a reductio ad absurdum: the poet desires freedom, but to pursue freedom too far leads inexorably to regular prose, however generously you’d like to define poetry. Therefore, the poetic freedom-fighter, if they want to actually write poetry, must stop fighting for freedom at some point. They must accept a certain amount of imposed order. The question then becomes of course—how much order to accept? Though the specific answer to that question will vary from poem to poem, the more general answer gets back to our original question, though put in a different way: what ratio of order to freedom will result in the production of the best work possible? We will revisit this question later. 

Apart from the sheer anti-poetic implications of prioritizing freedom above form, there are other problems with the case for freedom. One obvious one is that when you abandon organizational techniques you lose the artistic benefits of those techniques, and when, in the interest of freedom, you don’t substitute any other organizational techniques in their place, the poem is aesthetically impoverished as a result—it has done away with many of the rhetorical resources language possesses to impress and enrich meaning. 

Another problem is that the claim that formal techniques are inherently restrictive is one that is almost always made from a place of ignorance, a claim spouted by people who simply haven’t bothered to learn how to use these techniques. On the contrary, a poet who has mastered formal techniques will almost always see them as an aid to their creativity. Formal techniques, because of their demands, may technically be restrictive, but by no means must they be constrictive. To those who are comfortable using them, they present thought-provoking problem-solving opportunities which actually encourage the poet to explore their previously inchoate thoughts and exercise their creative powers. 

By contrast, the poet unmoored from any restrictions is entirely at the mercy of their instincts, and therefore, in a profound irony, is not free at all—decisions made on a whim, or in a void, are hardly informed decisions to which we can credit the full exercise of judgement and intellect. By contrast, the artist who works within the conventions of formal techniques can be stimulated by the challenges and possibilities of these restrictions, consider carefully, and by negotiating between the infinite possibilities of the imagination and the limited and disciplined practice of a rigorous craft, can produce works that show creativity working at its highest pitch, possessed of both meaningful, ingenious strategy and inventive inspiration. 

To sum up then: while the desire for freedom is understandable, and the lack of any freedom is artistically deadly, the unchecked pursuit of freedom leads to the dissolution of the art of poetry. Poetry must be at least somewhat ordered, and those who seek freedom in poetry ought to bear in mind both that the less organized a poem is, the fewer rhetorical techniques it has upon which to draw, and that organizational principles, far from being constrictive, can often stimulate the imagination to new thoughts and new heights. 


2.     The Argument From Accessibility


The second argument is the argument from accessibility, which is to say, the argument from ease. It goes something like this: “Poetry in prose is much easier to write than poetry in verse and has a much lower learning curve. Therefore, if we want to encourage more people to write poetry, and if we want poetry to be accessible to as many people as possible, we should promote poetry in prose over poetry in verse.” 

To simplify this issue, let’s think about it in the context of a classroom setting: what happens when you teach students that poetry is just lineated prose? A few things happen. Firstly, a good portion of the class is not going to take poetry seriously at all—they will quickly see that it requires very little effort, and will write it off as needlessly pretentious, self-absorbed, and silly. Another portion of the class will give it a shot, but again, because it requires no investment, they will quickly lose interest and forget about it. Finally, another portion will try writing poetry and find it fun and instantly gratifying, and both because they’ll be encouraged every step of the way and because there are no standards of composition, they will quickly think that they have mastered poetry when in fact they are completely ignorant of the basic techniques one can harness in order to enrich one’s language. Some of them will share their poems online, and more and more people will come to think that this sort of rudimentary utterance is what poetry is. Mediocrity will perpetuate itself. More people will write poetry, but will any of it be poetry worth reading? 

To get back to the classroom, even if the students are exposed to old poetry written in meter and rhyme, because they’ve been taught that poetry ought to be free, prose-like, and spontaneous, many of them will see these old poems as difficult, confusing, and artificial. Because they will not have been taught metrical prosody, they will be unable to properly appreciate the artistry of the first three thousand years of poetic composition. Unless they take the trouble to educate themselves further, they will be caught in a myopic presentism, with barely any frame of reference for how poetry has been practiced in the past and how they can learn from it. Moreover, because they are prosodically illiterate, if they want to write poetry, they will be forced to do so in prose. So much for freedom. Only a poet who has mastered formal techniques has the ability to make a conscious choice about whether to write in verse, prose, or both. For the sake of our future poets and for the sake of our culture, we should give our citizens the tools they need to appreciate the beauties of the past and to make an educated artistic decision for themselves. 


3.     The Argument From Spontaneity


The third argument is the argument from spontaneity. It goes something like this: “The most important thing in art is authenticity. The most authentic utterances are those which are raw and unfiltered. Therefore, I should write poems that are raw and unfiltered. In order to do this, I can’t spend any time worrying about form, I just need to let out my thoughts and feelings onto the page in whatever order they come.” 

            We don’t need to think about this attitude for very long to realize that it too is anti-poetry, and even more radically, anti-art. Art, after all, is artifice—it involves the crafting of something. The spontaneous poet wishes, by contrast, to bypass craft entirely, and views the mission of poetry to essentially be one of mental journalism, a diaristic exercise in self-expression. 

            It would be easy to dismiss these poets out of hand—clearly, their goal is not to create the highest quality poetry of which they’re capable, it’s simply to express themselves. However, because they are part of the poetic ecosystem, it’s worth dwelling on them for a moment. 

            An important question immediately arises: who are these poets writing for? If they’re writing privately, for themselves, then I have no quarrel with them—everyone is entitled to process their thoughts and feelings in healthy, harmless ways. The problem comes when these people insist on sharing their work with the world. I think there are two reasons that they do this: the first is to get attention and sympathy. The second is to provide a service: they think that by baring their soul to the world, they can help other people feel less alone. This second goal is a noble one, and I think some poets of this type even find a receptive and appreciative audience for their work. Nevertheless, I can’t condone their actions, for two related reasons. 

            Both reasons have to do with the fact that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum—as much as some people would like to think otherwise, art cannot be separated from moral concerns. Art is a form of communication, and everything we put out into the world has an effect, however small, on those who encounter it. More than our parents, our teachers, or our friends, the media we consume shapes who we are, and to the extent that we have power to shape that media in return, and shape it in such a way that it encourages the development of smarter, wiser, more well-adjusted individuals, we as artists have a moral obligation to do so. 

            When you read or listen to a poem, you’re inviting another mind into your mind. The poem doesn’t control your own thoughts of course, but as you’re reading it, you’re letting yourself be carried by the thoughts of another, at least for a few minutes, and as you’re following the poem, your mind is going through the motions of another’s mind. If the poem moves you in some way, that mental pathway, that memory, will stick with you. The thought of the poet will become one of your own thoughts, and in its microscopic way, will help shape who you are, and how you perceive the world. 

How crucial then, that as writers who seek to implant our own minds in the minds of others, we take the greatest care to ensure that our thoughts are as well considered as possible. The spontaneous poet’s thoughts are not considered at all, and that is the first reason why their words shouldn’t leave the confines of their notebooks. Their ideas are reckless. The second reason is that they present minds that are reckless: words that issue from, as Wordsworth said, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” are bound to not only to be distorted by emotion, but to present a mind dominated by emotion. Such minds, while occasionally attractive, are not healthy models for thinking. To encourage poetry of this kind is to encourage a culture of irrationality, even hysteria. Rather, we should follow Coleridge’s advice: “the best words in the best order.” 


4.     The Argument From Natural Speech 


The fourth argument is the argument from natural speech. It goes something like this: “In order for poetry to properly reflect reality, and to speak clearly and relevantly to the modern reader, it must mirror the way people actually speak—anything else would be too affected to be realistic, too artificial to connect with. People don’t speak in verse, therefore, poetry shouldn’t be in verse.” 

We should be starting to see a pattern here. As with the argument from spontaneity, we see here an appeal to authenticity. As with the argument from spontaneity and from freedom, we see an imperative that is fundamentally anti-poetic, anti-artistic. In this case however, the anti-artistry is more subtle, because rather than rejecting craftsmanship outright, it misinterprets one of the fundamental prerogatives of art, mimesis, and pursues that misinterpretation unto the death of art. We might call this the Naturalist fallacy 

            Under the classical definition of art, art is mimesis, an imitation of reality. What most people take this to mean is that art should either literally or figuratively reflect truths about reality, and this is perfectly reasonable. After all, if art presents us primarily with falsehoods, as Plato thought, then it cannot be good for us. The creation of art does, in a way, rely on a paradox: it involves making things up in order to better communicate to us about things that are not made up. In doing so, it provides a unique service, because unlike reality itself, which is chaotic and complicated, art can be intentionally crafted in such a way as to communicate truths about reality in a clear, orderly, illustrative fashion. Like a jeweler, the artist mines a truth from the earth, a gem that is dirty and uncut, and the identity of which is difficult to make out to the untrained eye. The task of the artist is then to polish and cut this gem in such a way that its inner brilliance, beauty, and structure blazes out for all to see. By doing this, the artist has not made a false gem; they have merely unearthed and crafted the gem that already existed into a shape that is both pleasing and instructive to the mind. 

            Our naturalist however is like a jeweler that is disturbed by their own profession. They think that, for the sake of realism, the jeweler’s task ought to be to present the gem as close to its original state as possible. Before long, they are merely hauling gems out of the ground, and presenting dirty rocks to the public, as Marcel Duchamp did when he displayed a signed urinal in a museum. Even this, however, is too artificial. After all, the rocks are naturally found inside the earth. Before long, all the jeweler can do is point to the ground, and say: “here there be rocks” which is no different than what anyone else can do. In their pursuit of being the perfect jeweler, the jeweler has given up their profession entirely. 

            Again, you may say that I’m following a slippery slope argument, to which I will again say: I am pointing out the logical conclusions of this way of thinking, which to believe and not follow through all the way to the end would be hypocrisy. Can the naturalist or the freedom fighter stop short in their goals? Of course, but if they do, they do so arbitrarily, and have no warrant to not have stopped earlier, before they threw meter and rhyme out with the bathwater. 

            To the naturalist who insists that we write in the language of modern speech, we might question whether only dialogue is now acceptable: after all, in real life, only people, not narrators, speak. Even if you say that a poem is a monologue, that doesn’t seem very realistic—how often do people actually monologue? Come to think of it, how much do people speak eloquently at all? Do we have to start peppering our poems with “ums” and “uhs” and laughs and awkward pauses and interjections and interruptions and distractions and all the other paraphernalia of actual conversation? Why even read such a poem? Why not just read a transcript of an actual conversation, or have a conversation yourself? And so, poetry dies, just as painting dies if the goal of painting is to imitate photographs, or music dies if the goal of music is to imitate sounds on the street. And if the naturalist says, “well that’s ridiculous, I wouldn’t go that far” you can ask them: “why not?” “why did you stop where you did, and neither before nor after?” If they give any argument in return, it will be an argument for the virtues of artifice, and once again we return to the question: what ought to be the standard method of artifice in poetry?

Because poetry in prose is a negation of verse, a poetry that is defined by being non-metrical and usually non-rhyming, it necessarily possesses fewer strategies. After all, any literary strategies that poetry in prose retains after dismissing meter and rhyme are also strategies that can be used with meter and rhyme, and that includes fancy tricks with line breaks and typography. Therefore, in order to justify that writing poetry in prose ought to be the standard method of poetic composition, it must be shown that verse is somehow artistically illegitimate. We have seen several arguments already which assert this and found them wanting. Let’s now consider two more. 


5.     The Argument From Organic Form


The fifth argument is the argument from organic form. It goes something like this: “every poem is unique, therefore every poem should be formulated in the unique way which best fits its thought. To straightjacket poetic thoughts into received forms is to betray the unique spirit of the poem for the sake of conformist conventionality.” 

The first thing to notice about this argument is that it concentrates its attack more against traditional forms, like sonnets, villanelles, or sestinas, than it does against the use of meter and rhyme per se. To the extent that it condemns unthinking dogmatism and rigid orthodoxy, there is little to argue with—obviously, poets shouldn’t use forms for the sake of using forms, but should attempt to the best of their ability to choose or even develop forms amenable to the thoughts they have to express. There are however three minor fallacies we must address in order to properly qualify the organicist’s imperative. 

The first is to point out that the organicist underestimates both the flexibility of traditional forms and the instinctiveness to which some poets take to using traditional forms. As with the freedom-fighter, the organicist often takes their position out of ignorance of how to use the techniques which they condemn. To a poet well-versed in writing sonnets, like Shakespeare, or Donne, or Spenser, or Sidney, or Petrarch, writing a sonnet about one’s thoughts and feelings might feel like the most natural and organic thing in the world. The sonnet furthermore is incredibly flexible both in terms of form and content: Not only are there Italian and English sonnets, and flexibility within these forms, but there are other types of sonnets that have been tailor made to suit other needs, such as the Spenserian sonnet, the Miltonic sonnet, the curtal sonnet and the terza rima sonnet, as well as countless other nonce variations which can be used or invented at the poet’s discretion. Furthermore, the architecture of the sonnet has proved a perfect dwelling for all sorts of subject matter, from romantic and divine love to satire and politics, from pure description to abstract philosophy. Obviously, not all poems can or should be sonnets, and inventing new forms can often be a worthwhile exercise, but to dismiss traditional forms out of hand as unsuitable to unique poetic thought is to misunderstand the nature of forms entirely: forms are not senselessly draconic straightjackets, they are time-proven tools which can be used to add power, complexity, and music to a developing thought, and if they prove unsuitable, they can be jettisoned or modified at will. 

The second fallacy is that the organicist’s critique implies that content and form are somehow separable. In their conception, content is prior to form, and the proper form must be invented for the content. In fact however, content is to a large extent determined in the course of composition by the form in which it’s composed, so unless the content is entirely mapped out ahead of time, which it rarely is, and then an inappropriate form is chosen for it, it’s difficult to say that any form is patently unsuited to what it says. The choice of form not only contains the content, it shapes the development of the content. 

The third fallacy to which the organicist is liable is what Yvor Winters called the “fallacy of imitative form.” One is guilty of this fallacy when one assumes, incorrectly, that the best or only way to write about a subject is to employ a form that somehow imitates it. In his essay entitled “Poetic Convention” Winters says:


“To say that a poet is justified in employing a disintegrating form in order to express a feeling of disintegration, is merely a sophistical justification for bad poetry, akin to the Whitmanian notion that one must write loose and sprawling poetry to "express" the loose and sprawling American continent. In fact, all feeling, if one gives oneself (that is, one's form) up to it, is a way of disintegration; poetic form is by definition a means to arrest the disintegration and order the feeling; and in so far as any poetry tends toward the formless, it fails to be expressive of anything.”


            Elsewhere, Winters compares the treatment of psychological fragmentation in T.S. Eliot and Baudelaire, noting that Eliot attempts to imitate psychological fragmentation in his form, but does not succeed in expressing his subject better than Baudelaire, who writes with traditional formal techniques. 

            In conclusion then, while it is true that great care must be taken to determine the appropriateness of one’s form to one’s initial idea, and also true that received forms should not be used merely for their own sake, it is not true that received forms are incapable of being the most appropriate form in a given circumstance. Furthermore, to dismiss the practice of received forms entirely is to cut oneself off from many helpful tools and strategies that have stood the test of time, in exchange for entirely new methods which may or may not be as efficacious. While new forms are always welcome, this insistence upon reinventing the wheel with every poem presents an entirely unnecessary artistic risk. 


6.     The Argument From Modernity


The sixth argument, and the final one I’ll discuss today, is the argument from Modernity. We’ve now come to what I believe is simultaneously the most frustrating yet most historically influential argument against traditional formal technique: the argument that formal versification, while it was once justified, is somehow not suitable for modern times. The argument stems from a version of the imitative fallacy: because modern life is fragmentary, hectic, intellectually adrift, and agnostic, it is inappropriate—even insincere—to write poetry that exhibits confidence in order, reason, and universality, aka formal verse. In light of Darwinism, quantum physics, industrialization, digitalization, advanced capitalism, Deconstruction, etc., the music of the spheres is apparently outdated. 

To be perfectly frank, this is hogwash. Imitative fallacy aside, to subscribe to this sort of defeatism is to believe that supposedly “modern” attitudes— skepticism, existentialism, agnosticism, vertiginous despair at the flux and chaos of the world— are somehow unique to our time, and therefore require special treatment. This is not just misguided, it is simply wrong. Euripides and Shakespeare knew the pull of nihilism just as well as Nietzsche and Sartre; the Buddha, Heraclitus, and Ecclesiastes knew all about fragmentation and flux. Protagoras and Gorgias knew about relativism and deconstruction; Xenophanes, Lucretius, and Al Ma’arri knew about the follies of religion, as does every major theologian of every faith. Juan de la Cruz and other mystics knew the dark night of the soul. One could go on and on. Despite the timeless currency of all these ideas, the artists of the pre-modern world attempted to create order out of the chaos, evincing a heroism and verve that I find exasperatingly lacking from modern artists. 

The spiritual plight of modernity is a myth we have irrationally believed in for so long that it has become true. What poet today has the ambition or spiritual confidence to write a Hamlet, Divine Comedy, or Paradise Lost? Our current artists wither beneath the shadows of history and cynicism. One might argue that nowadays, no one seriously believes in the systems that made Dante and Milton’s work possible, and that coming after Shakespeare makes measuring up to Shakespeare impossible. Furthermore, one might say, one cannot count on a common audience for one’s work the way poets of the past could. 

How ironic, when with the internet, finding an audience is easier than ever before; how insipid, when the thought of Shakespeare’s or anyone else’s greatness makes one retract into the shell of mere adequacy; how irrelevant, when what makes Dante and Milton universally and eternally valuable are not their belief systems but their beauty and wisdom; By subscribing to a belief in modern defeatist malaise, we have found a way to justify and disseminate our own mediocrity to future generations. This behavior should not be tolerated any further. Reality is just as wondrous, just as mysterious and beautiful, as it has ever been. Our human condition is just as glorious, and just as bleak, as it has ever been. We are still capable of rationality, we are still capable of exalted visions, and we are still capable of transmuting spirit-throttling darkness and confusion into hard-earned light and order. Poets, of all people, should believe this—it’s the essence of their practice. It is time they started acting like it. 




Because poetry in prose sacrifices the powerful techniques of formal verse and doesn’t substitute any unique techniques of its own in return, it’s necessary to come up with a strong case to justify its existence and practice. If I haven’t exhausted the case for poetry in prose, I hope that I’ve at least pointed out some of its many weaknesses. Next week, I’ll shift to the positive phase of my argument, and attempt to map out the many benefits of using meter and rhyme, and thereby establish a compelling case for claiming that formal verse ought to be considered the default mode of poetic composition. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this very nerdy and at times polemical jaunt through poetic theory—I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this is an issue I feel very passionate about, and I wanted to take the opportunity to explore it here. One more week, and then I promise I’ll be back to putting verse in your universe.