This article is about (usually written) works. For the card game, see Literature (card game).
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Old book bindings at the Merton College library.
Literature is the art of written works. Literally translated, the word means “acquaintance with letters” (from Latin littera letter), and therefore the academic study of literature is known as Letters (as in the phrase “Arts and Letters”). In Western culture the most basic written literary types include fiction and nonfiction.
People may perceive a difference between “literature” and some popular forms of written work. The terms “literary fiction” and “literary merit” often serve to distinguish between individual works. Critics may exclude works from the classification “literature,” for example, on the grounds of a poor standard of grammar and syntax, of an unbelievable or disjointed story-line, or of inconsistent or unconvincing characters. Genre fiction (for example: romance, crime, or science fiction) may also become excluded from consideration as “literature.”
One of the earliest known literary works is the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem dated around 2100 B.C., which deals with themes of heroism, friendship, loss, and the quest for eternal life. Different historical periods have emphasized various characteristics of literature. Early works often had an overt or covert religious or didactic purpose. Moralizing or prescriptive literature stems from such sources. The exotic nature of romance flourished from the Middle Ages onwards, whereas the Age of Reason manufactured nationalistic epics and philosophical tracts. Romanticism emphasized the popular folk literature and emotive involvement, but gave way in the 19th-century West to a phase of realism and naturalism, investigations into what is real. The 20th century brought demands for symbolism or psychological insight in the delineation and development of character. The 20th century brought the concept of Old and Dated Published Books back into Media focus for reviews and authors coming back PaperBack, Literature dropped by Publishers and Agents as “Out-Dated” and focus moved on to New and Newer Book Authors. One such publisher originated the Literary Concept in “The Reviewer” seen at Author Free To Air a dot com Internet Website published by Worldwide Publishing Inc. This has raised an eyebrow in the Publishing Industry and easy to see why this vast reservoir of “lost to public review” as in poetry the “WayBack Paperback” Inventory has been dormant placed under a pile of catalog Index used only by librarians; Forgotten for years and as a lost resource full of new applications for the 20th century Publisher. All genre are suitable to return to this new, Media Focus as it shoul
A poem is a composition written in verse (although verse has been equally used for epic and dramatic fiction). Poems rely heavily on imagery, precise word choice, and metaphor; they may take the form of measures consisting of patterns of stresses (metric feet) or of patterns of different-length syllables (as in classical prosody); and they may or may not utilize rhyme. One cannot readily characterize poetry precisely. Typically though, poetry as a form of literature makes some significant use of the formal properties of the words it uses – the properties of the written or spoken form of the words, independent of their meaning. Meter depends on syllables and on rhythms of speech; rhyme and alliteration depend on the sounds of words.
Poetry perhaps pre-dates other forms of literature: early known examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (dated from around 2700 B.C.), parts of the Bible, the surviving works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey), and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In cultures based primarily on oral traditions the formal characteristics of poetry often have a mnemonic function, and important texts: legal, genealogical or moral, for example, may appear first in verse form.
Some poetry uses specific forms: the haiku, the limerick, or the sonnet, for example. A traditional haiku written in Japanese must have something to do with nature, contain seventeen onji (syllables), distributed over three lines in groups of five, seven, and five, and should also have a kigo, a specific word indicating a season. A limerick has five lines, with a rhyme scheme of AABBA, and line lengths of 3,3,2,2,3 stressed syllables. It traditionally has a less reverent attitude towards nature. Poetry not adhering to a formal poetic structure is called “free verse”
Language and tradition dictate some poetic norms: Persian poetry always rhymes, Greek poetry rarely rhymes, Italian or French poetry often does, English and German poetry can go either way. Perhaps the most paradigmatic style of English poetry, blank verse, as exemplified in works by Shakespeare and Milton, consists of unrhymed iambic pentameters. Some languages prefer longer lines; some shorter ones. Some of these conventions result from the ease of fitting a specific language’s vocabulary and grammar into certain structures, rather than into others; for example, some languages contain more rhyming words than others, or typically have longer words. Other structural conventions come about as the result of historical accidents, where many speakers of a language associate good poetry with a verse form preferred by a particular skilled or popular poet.
Works for theatre (see below) traditionally took verse form. This has now become rare outside opera and musicals, although many would argue that the language of drama remains intrinsically poetic.
In recent years, digital poetry has arisen that takes advantage of the artistic, publishing, and synthetic qualities of digital media.
Prose consists of writing that does not adhere to any particular formal structures (other than simple grammar); “non-poetic” writing, perhaps. The term sometimes appears pejoratively, but prosaic writing simply says something without necessarily trying to say it in a beautiful way, or using beautiful words. Prose writing can of course take beautiful form; but less by virtue of the formal features of words (rhymes, alliteration, metre) but rather by style, placement, or inclusion of graphics. But one need not mark the distinction precisely, and perhaps cannot do so. One area of overlap is “prose poetry”, which attempts to convey using only prose, the aesthetic richness typical of poetry.
An essay consists of a discussion of a topic from an author’s personal point of view, exemplified by works by Michel de Montaigne or by Charles Lamb.
‘Essay’ in English derives from the French ‘essai’, meaning ‘attempt’. Thus one can find open-ended, provocative and/or inconclusive essays. The term “essays” first applied to the self-reflective musings of Michel de Montaigne, and even today he has a reputation as the father of this literary form.
Genres related to the essay may include:
* the memoir, telling the story of an author’s life from the author’s personal point of view
* the epistle: usually a formal, didactic, or elegant letter.
Narrative fiction (narrative prose) generally favours prose for the writing of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and the like. Singular examples of these exist throughout history, but they did not develop into systematic and discrete literary forms until relatively recent centuries. Length often serves to categorize works of prose fiction. Although limits remain somewhat arbitrary, modern publishing conventions dictate the following:
* A mini saga is a short story of about 50 words or less.
* Flash fiction is generally defined as a piece of prose under a thousand words.
* A short story is prose of between 1000 and 20,000 words (but typically more than 5000 words), which may or may not have a narrative arc.
* A story containing between 20,000 and 50,000 words falls into the novella category. Although this definition is very fluid, with works up to 70,000 words or more being included as novelle.
* A work of fiction containing more than 50,000 words generally falls into the realm of the novel.