'Par ma foi!' M Jourdain says, in surprise and delight, 'Il y a plus be quarante ans que je dis la prose sans que j'en susse rien.' 'By my faith! I've been speaking prose for more than forty years without knowing it!'
But what exactly is this prose thing he's been speaking?
Well, it's the stuff where the writing goes right to the end of the line, of course. Otherwise it's poetry...
...unless it's a list. Or, quite often, a play....
Oh rats! It's not easy, is it?
All right, then, how about this: prose is the stuff that's not poetry, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that prose is words in the best order, wheras poetry is the best words in the best order. But he was joking, of course.
I mean, if you chopped some examples of prose into short lines then there are occasions when it'd be jolly hard to tell it wasn't poetry.
The city was dark, now,
Looming in long
That nearly touched
And then, just to complicate things still further, there's the prose poem. This one, A Red Stamp, is by Gertrude Stein:
If lilies are lily white if they exhaust noise and distance and even dust, if they dusty will dirt a surface that has no extreme grace, if they do this and it is not necessary if they do this they need a catalogue.
I think I'm going to throw up my hands and go back to the word prose's derivation, because the word defines itself quite as well as I can.
Thing To Use Today: prose. This word comes from the Latin phrase prosa oratio, which means straightforward or direct speech.
*That's a sentence of mine, actually, from a book called Cold Tom.