“A lyric poem is a poem written in prose.”

You just can’t trust literature. It’s never called what you think it should be called, and the words…well, for example, as one student wrote, poetry “is when the writer never says what he means.”

As for the “poem written in prose,” we could offer the prose poem as an example, and yes, I’d agree that this seems quite a contradiction in terms. But for lyric poetry, which I always make my poor students sing some examples of, I don’t think the prose thing comes into it, unless they think song lyrics are a form of prose.

Anyway. Yesterday my BritLit class crossed the great divide, leaving the joys of the Middle Ages, Middle English, and Chaucer behind to move forward into the ecstasies of the Renaissance, Modern English, and Shakespeare. Our first ventures were Sidney’s “Defense of Poesie,” admittedly a challenging piece of prose, and a selection of sonnets from Wyatt through Sidney and Spenser to Shakespeare with a quick glance at Petrarch. I love to talk about the sonnet form, with its architecture of argumentation and shining conceits; I love to look at the rigors of rhyme and meter and discuss the easy fit between the sonnet and the Italian language, and then the adaptations that make it a graceful fit with English as well.

But, hence, the statement boldly written several years ago on an exam for this course: “The Petrarchan sonnet was created by the Italian Francesco Petrarch and is also known as Italian Poetry.” Ah, she was going along so well until that last word! My simple blackboard chart comparing the Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet and the Shakespearean (English) sonnet somehow reduced, by means of the parenthetical a.k.a., all of Italian poetry into the work of a single writer. Why it didn’t do the same for all of English poetry I don’t know. Actually, I can’t say for sure that it didn’t do the same, since there was no opportunity on the exam to equate the Shakespearean sonnet with English poetry. This just goes to show me, once again, that one has to be careful what one writes on the blackboard, whatever color the blackboard may be (perhaps a blackboard is when they never say what color it really is?).

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

One response to ““A lyric poem is a poem written in prose.”

Leave a Reply or Share a Horror.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: