Poetry in Prose in Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain is poetry in prose, and the examples of this are infinite. Every character met is described down to the last hair on their head; the war-torn countryside still lives on for Inman to relive and Ada to discover. The field burning, the sunrises and sunsets, the rivers flowing and the eternal rocks and trees that make up the landscape are all characters in themselves.
The definition of the word ‘poetry’ is allusive to say the least. Those in dictionaries run in circles from defining a poet as ‘one who writes poetry’ to defining a poetry as ‘the work of a poet’. It is more conclusive therefore, to describe what the poets themselves are aspiring to create: Coleridge distinguishes between prose – ‘the best words’- and poetry – ‘the best words in the best order’ – while Wordsworth said that poetry is ‘the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.’ Therefore it is difficult to distinguish between the exact difference between prose and poetry. In some instances, such as translating foreign poetry, it has proved more satisfying to convert the poetry into prose to convey the meaning without worrying about the metre, which is often lost in translation anyway. However, ‘Cold Mountain’ is clearly one of the chosen few novels written in prose with poetic style. By describing scenes, be they uplifting or disturbing, in an innovative, different, detailed style, Frazier succeeds in surpassing other novels in library brilliance and ingenuity.
From the first few words of the first chapter, the reader is captured. Different, or unusual words are used to describe what they do not usually do – morning ‘gesturing’, for instance, morning is not normally thought of as a gesture, but the verb works well despite this. The first paragraph is fraught with alliteration – ‘flies flapping’ and rousing roosters’ – yet another indication of poetic tendencies. The description of Inman’s heightened senses, the touch of the flies’ feet on his wound, the sound of their wings, go far beyond the calls of prose.
This highly detailed scene, full of metaphors, alliteration and so on is repeated, in style, though obviously not content throughout the book. One of the more memorable of these is that of Ada and Ruby and their encounter with a heron on page 184. His mysticism and reserve as he hunts for food I the river is described again using different adjectives to illustrate the experiences of the women. The similarities of the colour of his legs and the light reflections show this – the former were ‘black as the river’ – (omitting ‘as’ at the beginning makes it sound more like spoken words) a colour not usually associated with tranquil rivers. The reflections are likened to satin or chipped flint, illustrating the drastically contrasting childhood and therefore minds of the wealthy woman-about-town and the hardened countrywoman. Again, Ada’s experience of the heron taking flight in front of her eyes describes...