Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Good Prose and Good Poetry

 The definition of good prose is—proper words in their proper places;—of good verse—the most proper words in their proper places. The propriety is in either case relative. The words in prose ought to express the intended meaning, and no more; if they attract attention to themselves, it is, in general, a fault. In the very best styles, as Southey's, you read page after page, understanding the author perfectly, without once taking notice of the medium of communication;—it is as if he had been speaking to you all the while. But in verse you must do more;—there the words, the media, must be beautiful, and ought to attract your notice—yet not so much and so perpetually as to destroy the unity which ought to result from the whole poem. This is the general rule, but, of course, subject to some modifications, according to the different kinds of prose or verse. Some prose may approach towards verse, as oratory, and therefore a more studied exhibition of the media may be proper; and some verse may border more on mere narrative, and there the style should be simpler. But the great thing in poetry is, quocunque modo, to effect a unity of impression upon the whole; and a too great fulness and profusion of point in the parts will prevent this.

[Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, July 3, 1833.]