Literature is something said in an impressive way. Eternal truths, novelty, suitability of the subject to the belief system of the audience of the time are some of the factors that make a literary piece popular. A great Telugu language poet said, even things like a puppy, a match-stick, or a cake of soap, cannot be discarded as unsuitable subjects for poetry. Literature cannot be defined or fit into a frame as things in science can be.
Shakespeare was heckled when he started writing poetic dramas by learned writers of the day as he was supposed to be not a well-read man. Now we don’t even know the names of those scholars. Even today some people think that poetry without metre is prose. A university Professor used to say, “If Tagore is a poet, who is not a poet?” in spite of the Nobel Prize for Tagore. Literature elevates and fine tunes the personality of the reader. It is a wide canvas in which many incidents and characters give us a rich experience of different stages and angles of life.
Poetry is a condensed form of thought. So much is said in so few words using metre, analogies, images, symbols, figures of speech, with novelty in expression, creative use of language and various other tools suited to the genre. Effects are created with undertones, reading between and behind the lines. In good old days metrical Poetry and Poetic Drama were the two forms of literature all over the world.
Prose became popular after the Industrial Revolution which gave man machines because of which he got lot of spare time. Reading is the most popular pastime and hence writers started writing for the common man who can understand only simple ways of expression in prose. Prose is use of language in a higher plane than the language used in conversation or writing of educated common people. Higher plane does not mean high sounding or archaic words. Prose is a clear expression of thought in detail. For an ordinary man understanding prose is easier and he feels comfortable reading it. Most of the times he does not have to apply his mind to understand as in reading poetry. That is the simple reason why it became more popular in course of time leaving poetry behind though each has its own value.
The best known description of ‘good English’ is “proper words at proper places”. No two words mean exactly the same. A word gets meaning only from its context. Without the context word is meaningless. Language is a convention of using each word only in its context. Mingling words of older classical days with ultramodern vocabulary is unacceptable unless it is used for a specific effect. Using substitutes to suit rhyme or for variety is not appreciated.
Here are a few examples of widely appreciated prose which appear simple but have a deper meaning.
“Men fear death as children fear to go in darkness.”
“Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”
“I have no belief in belief.”
A complex concept in a poem in very simple words: “Man fixed in his folly thinks that he turns the wheel on which he turns”
A teaser: “Police Police police Police Poll” is a meaningful sentence. (Some Policemen of the police department appointed to do the duty of policing a polling in which police vote to elect their leader).