Stylistics of Poetry and Prose: A case of Contrast

Introduction

The poem and prose differ in assembly of words. Richard Bradford (1997, p.15) states that the poetic line differs from the prose in assembly of words. The use of grammar and syntax and forms another system of organisation of language. He further states that

‘awareness of the grammatical rules which govern the way that words are formed into larger units of meaning is based on our ability to recognize the difference between individual words’(Bradford 15). Bradford emphasizes on the function of sound and stress. One can observe that these functions of sound and stress in prose have utilitarian value.

However, in poetry the same things are used as indicators of meaning. Alongside with meaning, the poetry uses them as a method of measuring and bringing to the front, the principle structure of the work. This will be useful in analysing the stylistics as the poetry used in this paper is a traditional one. In the traditional poems,

“The persistent and predictable deployment of two or more of these features is what allows us to recognize the traditional line as an organizing feature of most pre-twentieth century poems’. (16)

Another important contrast is stanzas and paragraphs between poems and prose. The stanza helps to rhyme and divide the poetry, the paragraph helps the prose in classifying or organizing the work. However, Bradford in page 19, explains the utility of stanza in a narrative poem. In that type of poetry, the stanza will be used as a way of emphasizing a particular event or observation, which is similar to prose.[1]

Poetry

The stylistics of poetry may differ with different poets and Walter Jackson Bate (1963, p.50) mentions the case of Keats as self defensive in some poems. The following line of Keats to god

‘Give me women, wine and snuff’ (Jackson bate, 50)

Can be termed as a case of self defence and also carries the sense of ‘longing’ to the next line

‘Until I cry out ‘’Hold enough!”(50).

Though the next line has a connection with the first two, the meaning of the lines go further into the explanation. He cries that

“you may do so sans objection”(50).

And continues the same sense for the second line once more as

“Till the day of resurrection”(50). [2]

That means Keats in this poem is narrating his obsessions and asking god to fulfil them. The poem as a whole explains the wanting of the poet, and the expression changes with each two lines. In this regard, Thrope (1926) analyses the works of Keats as the ones that have antithesis in them.

The words “it is that he has one foot in the finite and the other in infinite, and that he is torn asunder, not by four horses as in the horrible old times, but between two words” (Thorpe 32) were about the suffering of man due to the aspect of antithesis in his aspects and intentions. Thorpe finds this antithesis in the works of Keats like the following

O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell,

Let it not be among the jumbled heap

Of murky buildings;(John Keats 6)

In the above poem Keats regrets to be in man-made buildings. He wants to be in woods and that feeling has been conveyed in the next sentences as follows.

“Climb with me the steep,–

Nature’s observatory-whence the dell,

Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,

May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep

‘Mongst boughs of pavillion’d where the deer’s swift leap

Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell”(Keats 6)[3]

Keats expresses his reluctance to live in cities or villages and want to be a part of nature’s untouched beauty. However, it is clear that one cannot live in those places in solitude. The loneliness cannot sustain life as there is no system that works to cater the needs of an individual. Hence, in the above example, Keats has torn himself between two worlds.

In this regard, Thorpe’s analysis of aesthetic nature of Keats works leads directly to a consideration of antithetical elements. This is due to the longing for reconciliation. He mixes up dreams and realities in a quest to progress towards a solution of the problem he is facing in the world he is living. One can analyse that ‘I doubt if he ever felt fully satisfied in his own mind as to how the adjustment could take place; in some of his utterances we see’ (33).

These utterances point to a near solution, which cannot be completed ever. Thorpe explains that this situation expressed in poems of Keats is due to the conflict between the luxury in the world he is living and curb and bridle he have in his imagination or in his mind.[4]

This further expresses the response of Keats to the dissent politics of Enfield School. Nicolas Roe (1998) states that ‘Greg Kucich has shown that a broadly based ‘radicalizing’ of Spencer was characteristic of Romantic poets, who summoned the ‘tension of reality and ideality’ in his poetry” (Roe 91).

That means the Sonnets like ‘O Solitude!’ emanated from the tensions between ideality and reality in the mind of John Keats. The harsh reality he is facing and the ideality he has in mind might have made his works a good example of antithesis. One can understand the antithesis along with the tensions between ideality and reality from the following.

“What though, for showing truth to flatter’d state,
Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he,
In his immortal spirit, been as free
As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
Minion of grandeur! think you he did wait?”(Roe 91)

In the above lines, Keats regrets for Leigh Hunt being in prison in the next sentences, he praises and adores the life he led before and after he left the prison. This brings out the contrast between incarceration and freedom of Liegh Hunt due to oppression and liberation respectively.

The imagination that that finds elation of the situation is due to comfort that was found in freedom than in prison. Roe (1998, p.92) finds that there is no escapism in Keats poetry, but a conflict between the consent and dissent, which resulted in antithesis of not accepting the world he lives, but being in a state of unable to move far away from it.[5]

However, Austin (1984, p.35) states that the stylistics is the one that makes minimal changes in the order and substance of the words in the poem to make a communication and opines that they are mistaken priorities.

Austin supports that idea as she thinks that ‘their general tolerance for poorly constrained, almost permissive theories in the technical subfield of poetic syntax, would not be appropriate’(Austin 35). She further states that the analysis of stylistics of certain poetry stays frontline of theoretical research regarding linguistics. During that analysis, one has to consider deviant syntax in poetry. Austin cites ‘line 39’ of “Adonais” as follows:

“Various transformations in English such as Passivisation may shift syntactic material out of embedded (complement or relative) clauses into higher (or matrix) sentences. Thus from the underlying structure in the following figure, in which piglet is the subject of S2 (Austin 35).”

The above figure is adapted from Timothy R. Austin, Language Crafted: A Linguistic Theory of Poetic Syntax (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984) 36.

In this regard Austin cites the Chomsky’s proposition of syntactic constraint of a tensed sentence. This brings to forth the usage of ‘to have’ in the place of ‘had’ in prose as well as in poetry. [6]

Prose (Isaac Asimov)

As far as prose has been concerned, the modern style is conversational style and Isaac Asimov’s writing better suits it. Regarding conversational style, Stamberg (2007)’s opinion is that ‘novelist’s interest in a situation wanes at that precise point when the reporter begins to consider him- or herself competent (Stamberg).”

Thus the phrase making a style of writing that also involves conversational style. The phrase making in the writing makes a work readable to the reader. This is possible when that phrase making is mixed with conversational, engaging and authoritative fashion, which can be attributed to Isaac Asimov. The phrase making suits to fiction as well and most of the Asimov’s novels use conversational style with a little bit of phrase making.

In addition to that it is necessary to recognise that Asimov disseminates knowledge. This dissemination has been done across the spectrum that comprises of human thought. This can be observed in the collection of essays on the name of ‘The Roving mind’ in which he expresses creationism, pseudoscience, censorship. The essays also mentioned population as well as philosophy of science with the issues of transportation and computers.

He mixed the corporations of future with astronomy and the book has been selected for this paper as it is mostly non-fictional. The important style embedded in every essay is about differentiation between real science and pseudoscience that exhibits conversational style of writing. [7]

Apart from conversational style, Asimov’s writing ‘shaped visions of human evolutionary potential through fictionalised science (Sharp)’. [8] Asimov explains this evolution and reveals the ambiguity in accepting it in different quarters of the society in ‘The Army of the Night’ article in his collection of essays ‘The Roving Mind’. He mentions about scientists, creationists and scientific creationists while citing evolutionary theory and the theory of god creating this world.

The former explains the evolution and the latter says that there is no evolution for creation of mankind.[9] Thus he brings out science and fiction or belief and criticises them by explaining the way they are asking the governments to introduce their theories into text books of schools.

The criticism emanates from his conversational style of explaining their demands and poses a question to reader about fear. The question itself is an indirect criticism and he further mentions that they are minority in number. The excellence can be observed in the way he presents the portrait of the creationists before readers and creates a sense of criticism. This can be observed in the following sentences.

“they make up a fervid and dedicated group of followers, convinced beyond argument of both their rightness and righteousness, and able to use their simplistic conservation and sloganistic patriotism to lure to their side allies who are not directly interested in creationist views. Societies have been disrupted and taken over by smaller groups than this when the majority has been apathetic and falsely secure”(Asmiov 6).

The criticism is not only about the creationists who lack reason and scientific observation but also regarding the majority groups being apathetic to irrational views of minorities. From that criticism Asimov goes into reasoning with the help of argument of analogy. He strikes down the views of creationists like ‘A watch implies a watchmaker’(Asimov 6) with the view that an object should be fashioned and made by human hands or machines and cannot come from vacuum or space.

However, he agrees with the concept of divine creator when he mentions the formation of’ humanity, life, earth, and the universe’(Asimov 6), which are more intricate than in a watch. It has been explained that they just did not happen and are fashioned and made by divine creator.

He opines that this type of argument rose from the days since the dawn of consciousness, to explain the world of gods and demons. He thus faults ignorance of people attributing everything that is unknown to god as that leads to unscientific views and thoughts in human mind. By arguing so, he supports the view of developing scientific though in human mind in place of accepting god wherever the reason is not known. In this way the style of writing exhibits both conversational and argumentative nature.

The argumentative nature gains hold through the condemnation of argument of consent. In doing so, he argues that he believes that ‘there would be no unanimous belief in a lie’(Asimov 7). He denigrates the belief on god creating the world by showing examples that different creeds of people framed various stories that are not similar to each other and some people even condemning the others.

He wants to establish the fact that this difference and condemnation occurs when there is no factual content in the stories by different religions of the world. However, the stylistic aspect in his writing is that he never condemns god but only denigrates the view of the people who take rescue on the name of the god not accepting their ignorance.

One more stylistic aspect that can be observed in this non- fiction writing is that Asimov criticises the arguments of creationists by making them look loose. One by one he lessens the importance and significance of the arguments of creationists with the help of argument of analogy, consent and belittlement. He does not belittle the creationists but points out the aspect in their argument that belittles the evolution theory.

He denigrates belittlement of evolution theory by creationists as naivete. He cites an example for this as ‘we have the description of the cellular nature of living organisms, of objects attracting each other according to a fixed rule of energy and so on’(Asimov 7) and asserts that they are firmly founded but not assumptions like those of creationists.

That means the stylistics in prose of the book ‘The Roving Mind’ can be observed as conversational, argumentative and utilitarian. Using these stylistics, Asimov tries to impart scientific thought in his readers. To impart scientific thought, he cites ‘the argument from imperfection’(Asimov 8).

He disparages the creationists attempts to emphasize scientific background to assert their beliefs in the section ‘the argument from imperfection’. The argument further criticises the attempt of creationists to defame the differences between scientists regarding the evolutionary theory. As a whole the stylistics of this prose are utilitarian with the aspects of conversation, argument and logic. Using logic, Asimov contrasts between science and pseudo science. His stylistics in the prose of ‘The Roving Mind’ leaves none.

He even criticises USA’s former president Ronald Reagan’s views about the soviets. He cites the words of Reagan as ‘no one who disbelieves in god and in an afterlife can possibly be trusted’ (Asimov 6). Then he argues that why Americans are not bringing down the soviets just by bribing. In the essay ‘The Reagan Doctrine’ the utilitarian value of Asimov takes resort in general phrases and words the people normally accept when they are spoken by celebrities.

The conversational style reflects in the sentence ‘It’s little depressing, if you come to think of it. By Reagan Doctrine, there is no such thing as a person who keeps his word just because he has a sense of honor’(Asimov 6), which is like talking with a friend or a peer to express the discontent with a rational view.

He further brands the morality of creationists’ words that propose to ensure heaven for good deeds as a spiritual blackmail. He points out that the god believing Iranians are not trusting god believing Americans, which is a contrast to the Reagan’s doctrine. As Reagan’s doctrine connects trust to the belief in god, he brings out the differences and mistrust between various groups of god believing people. Thus the essay ‘The Reagan Doctrine’ expresses the reason as a stylistic of prose.

Comparison/Contrast

While comparing the poetry of John Keats and the prose of Isaac Asimov, the more contrasting features appear than comparison. Keats poetry is about the two worlds. One being in which he is living and other he wants to live. That means he expresses his compulsion and reveals his desire. In that course of narration, he prefers solitude, which is just an imagination. However, in the case of Asimov, the imagination also has reasoning and that is the important stylistics of his prose.

The base of Asimov’s writing itself is reason and scientific thought which is in contrast with the imagination of Keats. Asimov wrote fiction also, but even that expresses the reason as stylistic and it is not the case of Keats, who criticises the world in a moralistic way and tries to go to the world he likes.

However, Asimov’s feet are firm in the world he lives and the stylistics in his prose are regarding utilitarian value and reason that is necessary in the worldly affairs. Though Asimov does not consider morality in his writings, he does not deny it. It is not just a part of his stylistics of prose. Even in Keats poetry, he does not overtly cite morality but indirectly emphasizes its significance in the worldly affairs.

However, Keats talks about a person’s intentions about his own way of acting in the poem ‘I am as brisk’. From the lines ‘I am as brisk as a bottle of wisk’(John Keats 6) indicates the movements of thoughts in his mind. The lines ‘Ey and as nimble As a miliner’s thimble’ (John Keats 6) indicate the sensitivity of heart. However, in contrast, one can observe rationality in thought in the essay ‘The Blind Who Would Lead’ by Isaac Asimov in ‘The Roving Mind’.

In the sentence about the phenomenon that has been resurfaced in 1980 in United States of America, he states that ‘it is the voice of self –reighteous, all knowing, narrow minded “religion,” this time in the form of self styled moral majority’ (Asimov 24). Here he brings forth the way the religious narrow minded people (from the view of Asimov), pose them in the society.

Before going into the reason and criticising them, he denies them in the words ‘The moral majority speaks with the voice of absolute authority’. After some sentences, he starts criticising like ‘The Moral majority is, in other words, a closed intellectual system, without possibility of change or admission of error (Asimov 24)’.

In this point he starts reasoning, which is not present in Keats poem mentioned earlier. There the imagination works as a stylistic aspect and in contrast, Asimov uses reason as well as rational thought in his argument to promote scientific thinking and supports liberal views in the society.

However, one can find a comparison in the form of censuring the world or society that they don’t like. In case of Keats poems, majority of them deny the present state of the world as the poet takes shelter in an imaginative loneliness. While considering comparison Asimov also will deny the thoughts of the irrational people. When coming to contrast, he unlike Keats, tries to bring the change in the thoughts of people who read his prose, but Keats try to impress the readers.

Consequently, the comparison in stylistics of Keats poetry and Asimov’s prose is about making the reader read the content, but the contrast lies in the way they affect the readers. Regarding the affect on the readers, one can cite the Asimov’s words ‘surely this puts an end forever to any hope of social or intellectual advance or to any rational adaptation to changing conditions’(Asimov 24). The word ‘this’ denotes the lack of possibility of change as they want to believe only the writings in the religious scriptures.

By saying so, Asimov tries to convince the readers that, when change is imminent, one cannot just rely on the writings, which are centuries old. He doesn’t support the act of imposing a feeling on minds of others on the name of god. Thus he tries to cultivate liberty in a peculiar style of mixing argument and conversation. In a contrast to this type of stylistic, in the poem ‘To My Brother George’ Keats says that

“Full many a dreary hour have I past

My brain bewilder’d, and my mind o’ercast

With heaviness; in seasons when I’ve thought

No Spherey strains by me could e’er be caught (Keats 7).

Keats tries to convey his ordeal in this materialistic world to his brother George. His inability to enjoy the world’s materialistic comforts can be seen in the line ‘That I should never hear Apollo’s song’ (Keats 7). This effectively touches the hearts of the readers but in an emotional way raking up the emotions.

Though there is affect of Asimov on readers that is not emotional. That is rational. Hence both poet Keats and Writer Asimov have a comparison in affecting their readers, but the former affects the heart, and the latter the mind. That means the former rakes up emotional aspects and Asimov rises the logical questions and lead to a conclusion that has a reason. However, in the poem ‘Ode to Apollo’ Keats praises the palaces and heroic deeds and rebuffs the war. The lines ‘in thy Western Halls of gold

When thou sittest in thy state,

Bards that erst sublimely told

Heroic deeds, and sung of fate’(Keats 4) indicates the adoration for the things won at war but the lines ‘There Homer with his nervous arms

Strikes the twanging harp of war,

And even the western splendour warms…….

…. But, what creates the most intense surprise, His soul looks out through renovated eyes’ (Keats 4). Thus Keats denies war and even sees a change in the homer, who wrote the Great War in the form of great epic thus renouncing violence. The same stylistic of renouncing of violence can be compared to the one present in the writings of Asimov in the essay ‘That Old-Time Violence’. Asimov first agrees with violence from the words ‘Violence is as human as thumbs and it’s been with us a long, long time.’ (Asimov 37).

In the next step, which can be compared to Keats, Asimov also cites Homer as ‘Or read Homer (about 800 B.C), and in his Iliad you will have careful descriptions of exactly where the spear went in and where it came out.’(Asimov 37), can be a comparison between Keats poetry and Asimov’s prose regarding the explanation of violence. However, there is a comparison in renouncing the violence too.

The words ‘And now it’s over! That old-time violence that’s got us in its spell must stop!’(Asimov 38) indicate the renouncing of violence in the modern of rationality and technology. He tries to convince the reader that the violence has to be given up as there is no purpose anymore, which is similar to the purposes achieved in history through violence. Hence, the comparison between Keats and Asimov is about renouncing the violence and the contrast is about the way they adopted to renounce.

Keats did it in emotional way, but Asimov explains to the readers the need of renouncing the violence. The reason in Asimov’s renouncing of violence stems from the sentence follows. ‘The new enemies we have today- over population, famine, pollution, scarcity-cannot be fought by violence’(Asimov 38).

As one cannot get rid of the problems in modern world through violence, it is necessary to shed it. However, the reason of this extent cannot be found in Keats, though there is a comparison of stylistic in the form of renouncing the violence. Hence, few comparisons and more contrasts occur between Keats and Asimov’s stylistics in the poetry of the former and the prose of the latter.

Bibliography

Clarence Dewitt Thorpe, The Mind of John Keats. New York: Oxford University Press. 1926. P. 32

Isaac Asimov, The Roving Mind (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997) 5, Questia, Web, 27 Apr. 2011. P.5.

John Keats, John Keats: Selected Poetry, ed. Elizabeth Cook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 6

Nicholas Roe. John Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998. 91-92.

Richard Bradford. Stylistics. London: Routledge, 1997. P. 15-19.

Susan Stamberg, “Writing to Be Heard,” Michigan Quarterly Review 46.3 (2007), Questia, Web, 26 Apr. 2011. Questia, Web, 26 Apr. 2011.

Timothy R. Austin, Language Crafted: A Linguistic Theory of Poetic Syntax (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984) 35.

Walter Jackson Bate. John Keats. USA: Harvard University Press. 1963. P.50

William Henry Sharp, “A. E. Van Vogt and the World of Null-a,” et Cetera 63.1 (2006), Questia, Web, 27 Apr. 2011.

  1. Richard Bradford. Stylistics. London: Routledge, 1997. P. 15-19.
  2. Walter Jackson Bate. John Keats. USA: Harvard University Press. 1963. P.50
  3. John Keats, John Keats: Selected Poetry, ed. Elizabeth Cook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 6
  4. Clarence Dewitt Thorpe, The Mind of John Keats. New York: Oxford University Press. 1926. P. 32-33.
  5. Nicholas Roe. John Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998. 91-92.
  6. Timothy R. Austin, Language Crafted: A Linguistic Theory of Poetic Syntax (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984) 35-36.
  7. Susan Stamberg, “Writing to Be Heard,” Michigan Quarterly Review 46.3 (2007), Questia, Web, 26 Apr. 2011. Questia, Web, 26 Apr. 2011.
  8. William Henry Sharp, “A. E. Van Vogt and the World of Null-a,” et Cetera 63.1 (2006), Questia, Web, 27 Apr. 2011.
  9. Isaac Asimov, The Roving Mind (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997) 5, Questia, Web, 27 Apr. 2011. P.5