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The differences between poetry and prose are of two kinds. First and most important is “narrative voice” – according to Aristotle’s separation of literature, epic (what we today call fiction or prose) has more than one narrator—that is, we hear the voices of Captain Ahab, Queequeeg, and Ishmael, among others, or (in the Odyssey) Odysseus, Poseidon, Telemachus, and Penelope, among others; but in poetry there is only one narrator, usually in the first person (“When I have fears that I may cease to be”; “Whose woods these are I think I know”; Oft in a stilly night/ Ere slumber’s chains have bound me”, etc.) Drama has no narrators, just characters who imitate an action (of course there are experimental exceptions, such as Tom Wingfield in Glass Menagerie). The second differentiation lies in this definition of poetry: “concentrated word magic”. Here, the element of condensation, saying much with little, is combined with the quality of nuance in words, connotation, rhyme, texture, etc. to produce some “magic” effect that goes beyond mere utterance into suggestion and nuance. While both prose and poetry can tell a story, set a landscape, and build characters, poetry does so with only one narrative voice and with a word concentration completely different from the habit of thoroughness of description found in prose. Even the shortest kind of prose (the vignette) is a page long, but some of the best poetry gets its message across in seventeen syllables (Haiku):
Running grey squirrel
Scattering crisp Autumn leaves
In all directions.
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