Originally, poetry creates the myth, while the prose-writer draws its portrait.

What did Jean-Paul Sartre mean by:

Originally, poetry creates the myth, while the prose-writer draws its portrait.


This quote suggests a dichotomy between poetry and prose in their respective roles in storytelling. According to the quote, poetry is the birthplace of myth, the origin of the grand narratives that shape our understanding of the world. It’s where the larger-than-life stories, the archetypes, and the universal truths are born. Poetry, with its emphasis on emotion, symbolism, and abstraction, is well-suited to this myth-making role. It’s where we turn when we want to explore the big, timeless questions of human existence.

On the other hand, prose is described as the medium that draws the portrait of the myth. Prose, with its focus on clarity, detail, and specificity, is the tool we use to bring these myths down to earth, to examine them closely and understand them better. If poetry gives us the myth in its grand, sweeping entirety, prose gives us the close-up, the detailed examination, the nuanced understanding.

In today’s world, we can see this dichotomy in action in various forms of media and storytelling. For instance, in the realm of cinema, certain films might be considered more ‘poetic’, dealing with grand themes and universal human experiences, while others are more ‘prosaic’, focusing on specific characters, situations, and details.

In terms of personal development, this quote might inspire us to appreciate both the ‘poetry’ and the ‘prose’ in our own lives. We all have our own ‘myths’, the grand narratives that give our lives meaning and purpose. These might be our personal beliefs, our dreams, our values. At the same time, we also need to pay attention to the ‘prose’ of our lives, the specific details and experiences that make up our day-to-day existence. Both are necessary for a full, rich understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

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