Prose vs. poetry

Robert Browning sets his dramatic monologues in the Renaissance, whereas Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about her contemporary society in Aurora Leigh. Could this Victorian-era story have been better told as a novel instead of a blank verse 300-page poem?


In "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry" Jane Hirshfield says:

A poem's music affects us whether or not we make it conscious; still, to study sound's workings reawakens both ear and poem. Generalization cannot teach this alertness. It is learned only by saying one poem at a time aloud, completely. Voicing it repeatedly, feeling its weight and measures, sounding its vowels; noticing where in the body each syllable comes to rest; tasting the consonants' motion through lips and tongue. Then saying it yet again, this time hearing the meaning and hearing how music and content not only support one another but are indistinguishably one.

Aurora Leigh, at 300 pages, doesn't lend itself to "saying one poem at a time aloud, completely." However, sections of it can be treated as if they were single poems. How does reading the following passage aloud change the impact of the passage:

My father was an austere Englishman,
Who, after a dry life-time spent at home
In college-learning, law, and parish talk,
Was flooded with a passion unaware,
His whole provisioned and complacent past
Drowned out from him that moment.

Structure and rhetoric:

Jane Hirshfield has this to say about the role of rhetoric in poetry:

Before we can concentrate easily, we need to know where we stand. This is the work of rhetoric, to locate words and reader in time and place, in situation and point of view. Sound invites concentration by engaging the body and the emotions; rhetoric draws in and focuses the cognitive mind. Traditionally defined as the art of choosing the words that will best convey the speaker's intent, rhetoric's concern is the precise and beautiful movement of mind in language....Each element of a poem is expected to be meaningful, part of a shaped and shaping experience of a whole: a word's placement on the page is significant, not accidental; sound qualities matter; even punctuation is thoroughly alive, responsive to itself and its context.

Aurora Leigh contains a variety of breaks that contribute to the music and semantics of the poem, breaks that include sentences of extremely varied lengths, judicious use of semi-colons, ellipses (...), em-dashes, indents, and double line skips. In Book 1 what role do the double line skips play? Does this change as we move from Book (chapter) to Book?

Is there a relationship among the last sections — where "section" is a segment separated by double line skips — of each of the Books?

Last modified 16 October 2003