Marginal Notes on the Prose of the Poet Pasternak (1935)
Textbook categories are comfortingly simple: prose is one thing, poetry another. Nevertheless, the difference between a poet’s prose and that of a prose-writer, or between the poems of a prose-writer and those of a poet, is very striking. A mountaineer walking in the plains can find no foothold and stumbles over the level ground. He moves either with touching awkwardness or with over-emphatic artistry; in either case it is not his natural gait, but involves obvious effort and looks too much like the steps of a dancer. It is easy to distinguish a language that has been learnt, however perfect its command, from one that has been naturally acquired. Cases of complete bilingualism are, of course, undeniable, and when we read the prose of Pushkin or Màcha, of Lermontov or Heine, of Pasternak or Mallarmé, we cannot help being amazed at the command these writers have of the other language; but at the same time we are bound to pick out a foreign note, as it were, in the accent and inner form of their speech. Their achievements in this second language are brilliant sallies from the mountains of poetry into the plains of prose.
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