A DEBATE ON VERSE AND PROSE AT THE STATE ACADEMY OF ARTISTIC SCIENCES
Edited, preparation of the text and notes by M. V. Akimova
This work is a publication with commentary of two documents: i) an outline of Boris Iarxo’s paper on the subject: “Verse and Prose”, and ii) the minutes of the discussion of the above subject at the State Academy of Artistic Sciences (GAXN, 15 October 1926). Iarxo presented his approach to verse in the form of five questions: what is the difference between verse and prose? where does the demarcation line between the two forms lie? how can one measure the degree of rhythmicality of speech? what are transitional types between verse and prose? are there any differences between verse and prose, other than acoustic ones?
To Iarxo, verse was “speech, in which a particular acoustic element (a pause, a rhyme, an alliteration, a word accent, a tonic group)” is reiterated in a regular way. Regular repetitions should embrace more than 50% of all prosodic segments, otherwise the given text should be qualified as prose. According to Iarxo, free verse and rhythmical prose should be conceived of as transitional types; there are no differences between verse and prose, other than acoustic ones. The question of measuring the degree of rhythmicality remained unanswered: Iarxo was not satisfied with the available devices of detection of rhythmical units in prose, and, at the same time, it was not easy for him to develop his own method, for he denied the existence of prosaic rhythm in principle.
The most serious objections were raised by M. P. Stoliarov (who reproached Iarxo for “not discriminating” between the notions of metre and rhythm), M. A. Petrovskij (who did not agree that prose has no rhythm) and E. G. Shpet (who asked “if it is possible to consider the difficulty of dividing prose into segments a specific feature of prose”). In one of his articles, Tomashevskij advanced a similar idea: he believed the specificum of verse was its state of being split up into “lines of verse” (stixi). Iarxo shared many of Tomashevskij’s theoretical principles, but he considered this particular feature insignificant: otherwise he should have recognized rhymed prose and exemplars of Gorgian rhetoric as poetry.