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poems like novels and novels like poems

by Sidney Beck

 An appraisal of   of poems like  novels   and novels    like  poems

first  old man and sea

second the pearl…

Third Maria Chapdelaine

Fourth Menaud maitre draveur…



What defnes a poem ?  A novel? continuum no definite  boundary..lNo real definition of a poem/novel

If we tke snap shts of various  poems/novels in  early stages of   preparation  we see that some  are   more like poems and some are more like novels.  Novel writers who are also poets (like Hardy or  Savard) tend to include their  poet   tricks of the trade in their prose passages, withouta conscious desire to make it sound like apoem.

Poems  contain repeated lines or phrases  in the form of chorus  or refrain. We do not expect to see such repetition in prose novcels or  stories. Yet in some novels it is obvious that the author has deliberately used the same phrases or expressions   and probably for a specific purpose


Least like a poem

To the hero, fishing is not simply a contest in life. It contains profound philosophic meaning. In addition, the baseball match and the hand wresting with the Negro, like fishing, symbolize the contest in life. They compensate and enrich the inner meaning of the main plot of fishing.

The Old Man and The Sea  published 1952 deals with Spanish Catholicism aud Cuban culture; Man and The Sea. moves at a ballad tempo, speaks to life and death struggles, and embraces sorrow and joy in equal measure. ballad  tempo  also uses multi  Ave s or similar prayers

The speakers are distanced from readers to a certain degree. “I can remember it,” the old man said. “I’ll waken you in time.” The simple sentences and the repeated rhythms hit at the profundities that the surface of the language tries to ignore. Its simplicity is highly suggestive and connotative, and often reflects the strong undercurrent of emotion. Indeed, the more closely the reader watches, the less rough and simple the characters appear Hemingway. “ I wish the boy were here.”  The language in some paragraphs is different from other parts of the novel. Because  the novel is an English version of the Spanish that Santiago and Manolin would speak in real life. Since we are meant to realize that Santiago and Manolin could not possibly speak like this, since English is not their tongue anyway, we are more likely to accept other artificialities of the dialogue.

The use of color is significant: “The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the gray-blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now.” These facts show readers the process of fishing, which mostly comes from the author’s own experience.

Hemingway’s strength lies in his short sentences and very specific details. Hemingway uses dialogue as an effective device. Thus the speech comes to the reader as if he were listening  in .   Hemingway has captured the immediacy of dialogue skillfully and made the economical speech connotative. He  took all his pain and what was left of his long gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony and the fish came over on to his side and swam gently on his side, his bill almost touching the planking of the skiff, and started to pass the boat, long, deep, wide,(color again) silver and barred with purple and interminable in the water.

So the novel is full of facts, such as the habit of fish. The technique of the novel   lies in the way to use these facts. Firstly the facts are selected. Hemingway’s old man, boy, sea, fish, and sharks are not so much built up in our minds, detail by detail, facts by facts, as driven into our mind by the force and the sympathy with which the author himself shares in their imaginary existence. Like any realist, he relies on selection. When the giant marlin finally surfaces, his tail “was higher than a big scythe blade and very pale lavender above the dark blue water.”


More n some ways like a poem

The Pearl  1947 repeated choruses in same words like a prayer like the Ave?  The pearl is really a disguised imperfection  hdes a potential   killing  mote in the oyster.   The Pearl  by Steinbck is very similar  to  The Old  Man  and  the and The Sea.there are  conversations with fish  or with oyster/pearl.     The medium of water allows   illusions and imaginary in several   scenes.  The major symbol is the sea, but only becomes crucially  important if man  embarks upon the journey. If man is lucky enough to discover a treasure (be it love or family or education), he must fight until death.  Then,  man obtains the status of hero if he battles the sea  under pressure.

Both stories  have repetition of phrases  dealing  with this once  in a  lifetime   catch……. The novel is rich in symbolism that enhances both the plot and the themes. While the story has its symbols and large allegorical sentiments, every facet of the tale is transcribed into metaphor. Even the minds of the Indian people are as “unsubstantial as the mirage of the Gulf.” Further, they are clouded as if the mud of the sea floor has been permanently disturbed to block their vision. Both stories  have repetition of phrases  dealing  with this once  in a  lifetime   catch……. The novel is rich in symbolism that enhances both the plot and the themes.

The novel is full of symbolism of the talismanic, allegorical, and ironic kind. The pearl itself is a symbol of escape for the poor man, but it also symbolizes the effects of greed on man  On first glimpsing the pearl    Kino lifted the flesh, and there it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and     refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence. It was as large as a sea-gull's egg. It was the greatest pearl in the world.      

Images of animals “excited dogs on a warming trail”, and “scurrying ants and behind them a larger ant . It even applies to the hero  Kino,  for after Kino finds the pearl (which can pay  for  doctor) he “howls”. Steinbeck describes the town as a “colonial animal”(21). like a “nervous system” and portrays many of the inhabitant claws  with  Images of animals “excited dogs on a warming trail.  Kino conversing  with /about crabs is  similar  in  some ways to  Prufrock  who also see  himself as animal claws   nerves  etc.   

The Indians are constantly presented as innocent primitives further duped by the superstition of the Catholic Church. They are also, and Kino is especially, compared to animals. we have a conflict between the simple and naive pearl fishers and the pearl buyers, who use their position to exploit the powerless natives. Likewise, there is the doctor and the priest who have shown no interest in Kino, had no money to pay.

Then, too, there is the obvious level of the parable, or the allegorical or symbolic level of interpretation. The pearl is a pearl of great price. It represents the vanity of human wishes Another element that gives a clear image is the music that Kino hears throughout the book. At the beginning he frequently hears the Music of the Family. Later the Song of Evil, “music of the enemy, of any foe of the family, a savage, secret, a dangerous melody”, overplays the Song of the Family. When Kino finds the pearl a new song arrives, the Song of the Pearl. At the beginning he frequently hears the Music of the Family. Later the Song of Evil, “music of the enemy, , overplays the Song of the Family. When Kino finds the pearl a new song arrives, the Song of the Pearl. Kino's people had sung of everything that happened or existedAnd the music of the pearl had merged with the music of the family so that one beautified the other.


This is  defiinitely like a poem  in some ways…..

Two French language novels called  Maria Chapdelaine (published 1913) and Menaud   Maitre Draveur  (1937) are best considered as a pair   but translation  into English  loses the  feel   and the “poetry” of the French original  An allegory of sorts, a  pastoral. roughly idyllic or idealized version of  French Canadian "frontier" life 1900 .One dominant theme  is the Christian struggle between good and evil, dark and light, here  focused between  primeval forest and farm. Taming/slaying the forest as quickly and completely as possible, is a religious duty, the bringing of civilization to barbaric nature (one that shows no particular use for man). Everyone here must be able to get up at the crack of dawn and labor hard till dark, just to survive. Also, as indicated by Maria's consideration of her three suitors, a woman marries not only a man, but a way of life and a place, the land. In the final instance, when faced with choosing between one man to go to city life in the U S, and another  which would mean a life like her mothers, Maria Chooses to stay(after having been spoken to by the voice of the land & the voice of duty).  If her true  fiance, François Paradis had not been lost in the winter wilderness she might have found happiness  but it seems  paradise is meant not for daily life but only for the afterlife.

Louis Hémon, the author, was an immigrant to Québec from France. Yet he seems to have captured both the "spirit of the place" and the essence of the farming people who formed the rural population 100 years ago. His language, while simple and straightforward, perfectly captures the sights, sounds and smells of the rural homesteads and their surrounding forests. His portraits of the main family are exquisitely detailed and he captures the heartbreaking death of the mother of the heroine with sensitivity and without excessive sentimentality.

“The cold whitenesss, the tiny church tucked away in the midst of the forest, a few wooden houses sparsely laid out along the road.  The dark edge of the forest suggest that  it appears to be athreat.  All of these  indicate a tough life in a  a hostile country”   “The naked desolate nature of the frozen  water, a few narrow fields still left with some stumps, so narrow that they seem to be strangled by the sheer grip of this savage country.”

Present day readers , tired of an increasingly mechanized and dehumanized society may actually find such descriptions sublime, ethereal, even spiritually stimulating   Religious dedication is another feature of Quebec lif e in thos e  days     Maria decides to say “Ave” a thousand   times during a single day while doing all her chores. A grueling task but one she completes, along with  every chore.Part of Hemon’s style  is to avoid an oversupply of  images or metaphors

Hemon is rightly hailed as an accurate historian of life on the Canadian frontier   100 years ago. The  challenge of the cold and the interminable winter   and the poor soil is enough to set the scene. Added to this is the   political/social background of  a French culture dominated and to some extent  mistreated as second-class citizens.  The real tragedy is the loss of Francois Paradis (roughly translated as  French paradise) who would have been an ideal  future husband for Maria.  He died  a hero’s death   conquering the frontier,  but that was little compensation for Maria  who must now choose between  two  less than ideal  possibilities who can offer a much less desirable existence.  And whose commitment to French  culture is more questionable.This is a very   important requirement for  a  future husband of  Maria. Because  “les etrangers sont venus.” (outsiders have arrived  and  threaten our French culture).


Menaud  is definitely  a poem disguised as  a  novel


Twenty odd years later a lot more “etrangers”   as well as economic    circumstances  have changed the  social fabric .This is definitely like a poem ,  so much so that the  poetic articulation   even slows down the pace of the narrative until it may be  somewhat diificult to follow the   story, which sometimes has a  rather weak combination of plot lines

It is Menaud, Maître-Draveur, a work that took 30 years to complete, that firmly established the literary renown of Felix Antoine Savard.  It remains a fine example of a patiently crafted, successful literary work.It  was published in 1937and assured Savard a place among the leading authors of his time. His novel moves like an epic poem in which symbol, image and metaphor abound.


Malette (1968) describes  Hemon’s style (A) as“at once desciptive, narrative, realistic’.  And Savard’s  style (B) as “at once lyric, poetic, epic”.  “Savard’s style has moments of poetic ecstasy and set pieces for preservation in anthologies   constantly running the risk of drying up the slow trickle of the story  and putting  a stop to any narrative development”

When we compare  A   and B the dominant one indicates the intended genre  Hemon was working in was prose writing  - probably mostly novel.  But Savard  was mostly poetry .   Between  the publication dates  1913 and 1937 the country had changed  due to  emigration and reduced nationalistic  traits - political change.  However Savard  uses text quotes from Hemon     “les etrangers sont venus”(used 12  times). And Savard’s text  is embedded in Hemon’s with more  poetic touches and is more    poeticised.  ConcLusion -  Savards work is mix of narrative/lyric   and abundant poetic devices  which seems to indicate  the  genre of poetry. Savard’s hero is a hero out of time, not dissimilar to Hemon’s Francois Paradis.  In both examples  the myth of unadulterated  French   life in  Quebec is gone.

 menaud  1937   and maria 1913 similar…….



Poets use personal symbols to actualize their work. For example in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, the evening is compared to a patient lying on an operating table and endless streets are compared to irritating, monotonous arguments.

It is a   poem, but what features show it possibly located in the novel class?        It is a dramatic narrative poem   close to a prose story.  A narrative poem typically has characters, settings, action, and resolution of the conflict. Eliot uses situational irony  which is mostly employed in plays  or movies (novels in talk)   to communicate frustration and futility, squalor and seediness, neurosis, and loss of spirituality. He represents modern man   as a neurotic, a split personality, and the 'I' and 'you' are the two aspects of his personality.

Eliot uses imagery extensively.   Tension, frustration and the irresolution of the modern man, depicted by  images and symbols. The streets (and journey) suggest the character of the question. The abrupt break (cinematic style) after the smention of the question suggests an emotional block.  ” Let us go and make   our visit suggsts that of destination. But the observation ‘downed with high brown hair’ is no digression of Prufrock’s problem. It reveals indirection and mock-heroic tone in the poem, for his next statement is how should I presume?....

One of the the main images,  the sea, begun with “Oyster-shells”, emerges at this point.  It is the imagery of the suppressed self of Prufrock   This watery, floating imagery involves the relaxation of all effort, offers a submerged fulfilment. It is ended when “human voices wake us, and we drown”—with the intrusion of reality which drowns the inner life, the ‘us’ in Prufrock. images of relaxation or concentration of effort give an imaginative cinematic feel for the divided mentality of a person.

His love song is not sung in the real world. It is actually the lament of a being divided between passion and timidity. He knows the mermaids will not sing to him like in  real epics , because they only sing to the courageous and the adventurous like Ulysses and his sailors, like Santiago and the great Marlin. and the pearl which speakss to Kino too In place of the real Question  he wishe to pose,   appear about 13    questions  addressed to himself, eg   do I dare 3 times,  how should I presume 3 times, how should I begin 2 times.  Prufrock never finishes his proposal. After the preamble following “Shall I say”, his psychological block sets in, and he concludes by saying that he should have been “a pair of ragged claws”(reminiscent of  Kino) in“silent seas”)- disembodied and  protected in a  shell.

One of the the main images,  the sea, begun with “Oyster-shells”, emerges at this point.  It is the imagery of the suppressed self of Prufrock   This watery, floating imagery involves the relaxation of all effort, offers a submerged fulfilment. It is ended when “human voices wake us, and we drown”—with the intrusion of reality which drowns the inner life, the ‘us’ in Prufrock. The sea-imagery,and  hair imagery, give an imaginative cinematic feel for the divided mentality of a person. It expresses the hollowness, infertility, the psychological trauma, the spiritual languor, the frustration and thr Hamletic state of mind of the post-war generation. An important  literary allusion suggests Prufrock is indecisive and lived and d died for a cause whereas Prufrock  finds his life to be purposeless


The lines –“Women come and go, talking of Michelangelo” satirises the vague pretensions of the modern  ladies

. Then the image of “lonely men in shirt –sleeves, leaning out of the window” gives the essence of sterility and vacuity characterizing the lives of these hollow men. The fog also symbolises the dirty and repressive environment of city life


Eliot uses lots of Repetition  and it smacks of poetry :   “do I dare” is repeated in the poem.  The phrases such as, “the yellow” “window-panes” and “let us go” have been repeated. They have become a type of refrain.  Women  come and go talking of Michelangelo  is another  refrain-like  song( similar to Aves in Pearl or  Old Man) ……………

PRufrock’s death wish of a  modern man is evident and expressed in the the idea like “pinned on the wall”“the floors on the silent seas”“the eternal footman"“chambers of the sea”“we drown”,

Eliot likes the images of nature, particularly of the sea which represents the mind of Prufrock which is violated by stormy waves and cannot be relaxed

Book: Shattered Sighs