Analogues of Language Forms

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last posted Jan. 28, 2014, 1:32 p.m.
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Does prosaic language have an analogue in music?

Put it another way:

Given that poetry has often been described in terms of "words-as-music": is there a compositional sonic equivalent of prose?

Put it yet another way.

Which of the following incomplete analogies is more likely to produce a useful solution:

  1. Poetry : <some music> :: Prose : <other music>
  2. Poetry : Music (all) :: Prose : <something else entirely>

(I should warn you that I am academically unfit to pose or debate these sorts of questions.)


Analogy #1 above suggests there are some forms of music which can be described as prosaic and some which are poetic. The next question becomes, what makes a given composition one or the other?

For example, we might take "programmatic" compositions, which are meant to be appreciated in terms of the fairly literal scenes and subjects they evokes. But cannot a poem also evoke literal scenes and subjects? This definition does not seem to support the analogy. But there might be others.


Aside: I coined/used the phrase "compositional sonic" in the original card above, because I think there may be a superset of the art most people call "musical" which nevertheless includes all "composed sounds". So-called "Noise music" would be a major example of this.

This may be too nice of a distinction on my part. If we agree to use "music" for all composed sound, we can drop it.


Obviously we soon run into the need to define terms: Prose, poetry. What makes a thing prosaic as opposed to poetic?


There are definitions of "prosaic" and "poetic" that are not mutually exclusive. We need to set these aside to avoid confusing ourselves.

For example, "prosaic" can mean "boring, uninspired, flat" . But, although prose is generally less exciting than poetry, it is possible for there to be poetry that is lifeless. So we should avoid this definition because it doesn't help us distinguish the prosaic from the poetic.


For meanings, I'll start with Poetry.

Poetry is when you impose structure on language -- rhyme, imabic pentameter, the sestina, etc. -- or, when you create additional layers of meaning beyond the immediate meaning of the phrases: e.g., the arrangement of the words on the page, or the timing of words spoken; phonetic effects created by the sounds of the words, etc.

My working definition of prose, for now, is simply a negative one: language without imposed metrical structure, and without additional layers of meaning.


These definitions suggest, to me, that without the involvement of language it may not be possible for a form to be called prosaic.

Putting the possibility another way, while there probably is some area of overlap shared between poetic language and music, there may be no overlap between prosaic language and music.


This brings us to Analogy #2, the second statement above:

"Are all forms of music poetic?" -- no, that's not quite what I'm asking;

Rather, the possibility we are considering is that: all the forms of language that share some overlap with music are poetic forms.


Is there, perhaps, then, no musical equivalent of what in writing we call the prosaic?

If so, might we say that prose is the form of language that is beyond the place of overlap shared by words and music?

Would this not make prose the ultimate form of language? (That is, the form of language in which the possibilities of language are most realized.)


This is the unexpected possibility to which this line of questioning has lead me. I had always unconsciously considered poetry to be the "ultimate form" of language, through some idea of poetry being language "distilled to its essence" with all that is unnecessary cut away.

I have now to consider whether poetry is not in fact a pure/idealistic form, but actually more of a compromise: a trading away of some aspects of language in exchange for some aspects of music.