Guide to Literary Terms

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What are the similarities and differences between poetry and prose?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Here are the simplified definitions of prose and poetry:

Prose--the ordinary, matter-of-fact, ordinary form of language 

Poetry--the art of rhythmical composition for exciting pleasure by imaginative or elevated thoughts.

There are times when prose that contains elevated thoughts and a beauty of expression is referred to as being "poetry." Therefore, the division between the two is certainly mitigated at times by beautiful language or inspired thoughts.


While prose has as its definition, "written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure," it certainly can share with poetry some poetic qualities such as lyricism and the use of literary devices such as metaphor, simile, symbolism, paradox, imagery, and so on. 
For example F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer of prose, is often described as a romantic lyricist because there are elements of Romanticism in his writing and the structure of his prose is so lyrical in nature at times with its balanced and poetic phrases and lilting sentence structure. Consider this passage from The Great Gatsby:

But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes....For a while these reveries provided...a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wings. (Ch. 5)

So, while prose can often be poetic, poetry rarely is prosaic, although it can be rather mundane and matter-of-fact at times, as in some modern poems.


No poem in the traditional sense of ode, elegy, epic, sonnet, etc. can be judged as similar to prose. These formal forms have the restrictions of meter and rhyme and form. Appearance is very different as prose is composed of paragraphs and/or dialogue while poetry is arranged in verse and lines

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Prose can be defined as everyday language. Prose does not adhere to metrical structure or rhyme. Instead, prose is identified as the natural flow of colloquial language. Prose comes from the Latin term “prosa...

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lynn11 | Student

Great question! Poetry and prose are similar in that they both seek to express feelings and ideas through the craft of language, using metaphor, imagery, or straight narrative to tell a story or recount an experience.

Prose can be written in a colloquial (conversational) style, a more formal style (think: newspaper article), or with more elevated and musical diction and syntax (often found in literature). While poetry can also be written in the above styles, there are some key differences when it comes to poetry.

Poetry is broken into lines and stanzas, and rarely follows the more standard rules of sentences and punctuation. Poetry can rhyme, though it doesn’t have to. Poetry also employs what is called the line break (the last word of a line) to tease meaning out of both the end of one line and the start of another. Because the rules of poetry tend to be more loose than those of prose, the possibilities for what a poem can do are rather limitless.