Very early in our education we are made familiar with the distinction between verse and prose. The conviction gradually forces itself on us that when we mean what we say we write prose, and that verse is an ingenious but fundamentally perverse way of distorting ordinary prose statements. The conviction does not come to us from school so much as from our accumulated experience of observing prose and verse in action, and embedded in it is the assumption that prose is the language of ordinary speech. But this is not the case. In the history of literature we notice that developed techniques of verse normally precede, sometimes by centuries, developed techniques of prose.
Prose is the expression or imitation of directed thinking or controlled description in words, and its unit is the sentence. It does not follow that all prose is descriptive or thoughtful, much less logical, but only that prose imitates, in its rhythm and structure, the verbal expression of a rational mind. Prose, therefore, is not ordinary speech, but ordinary speech on its best behavior, aware of an audience and with its relation to that audience prepared beforehand. It is the habitual language of fully articulate people who have mastered its difficult idiom. Nonetheless, when they speak, even they will avoid stilted speech or “talking like a book”; their speech rhythm shows the influence of something that is not prose. If we are lost in a strange town and ask someone for directions, even the most articulate person will not respond in prose. We get instead a speech rhythm that is prolix and repetitive, and in which the verbal unit is no more a prose sentence than it is a poetic stanza.
Ordinary speech is concerned mainly with putting into words what is loosely called the stream of consciousness: the daydreaming, remembering, worrying, associating, brooding, and mooning that continually flow through the mind and which we often speak of as thought. This ordinary speech is mainly concerned with self-expression. Whether from immaturity, preoccupation, or the absence of a hearer, it is imperfectly aware of an audience. Full awareness of an audience makes speech rhetorical, and rhetoric means a conventionalized rhythm. The irregular rhythm of ordinary speech may be conventionalized in two ways. One way is to impose a pattern of recurrence on it; the other is to impose the logical and semantic pattern of the sentence. We have verse when the arrangement of words is dominated by recurrent rhythm and sound, prose when it is dominated by the syntactical relation of subject and predicate. Of the two, verse is much the simpler and more primitive type, which accounts for its being historically earlier than prose.
Q. The reasoning employed in which one of the following situations is most analogous to the author’s reasoning in explaining the fact that prose developed later than verse?