Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

and Mitología Citbana, as agile and alive as cave paintings, looking at some of which Picasso once said: “We've learnt nothing.”

Verse, instead, nearer to song, is measurement by definition. One heptasyllable, one octosyllable, one hexasyllable, or a quatrain, a tercet, a hexameter, are exactly what these words say they are. Even if the name does not imply measurement, the meaning is always unequivocal.

Azorín, that well-known figure of the Spanish Generación del 98, says that the short story is to prose what the sonnet is to verse. I do not know. I respect and admire Azorín, but I really do not know. Needless to say, despite the mathematical flavor of his sentence, he is not trying here to define the short story or the sonnet, but simply to emphasize the intensity and concentration that both literary expressions may offer by virtue of their brevity. And who would deny the wonderful possibilities the sonnet has on that score. But aside from the fact that while a sonnet will always be catorce versos and a short story will always be shorter or longer than any other short story, surely there are poetical compositions briefer than the sonnet that can be equally as touching, to say the least. I cannot remember offhand a sonnet that surpasses in quiet nostalgia and intensity this endecha (quatrain) flying through time like a lonely, forgotten leaf, by Antonio Machado:

Tengo a mis amigos
en mi soledad.

Cuando estoy con ellos,
¡ qué lejos están! (II. 15–18)
I have my friends
in my solitude.

When 1 am with them,
how far away they are!

It takes a poet to say that—sorry, couldn't help the comment.

No, Lope de Vega's precise definition of the sonnet, for instance, “Catorce versos dicen que es soneto” (the third line of his well-known versified description of the poem), has no equivalent in ptose. Impossible to know beforehand the length of any narrative, short or long. Good! I am tempted to add. For this limitation frees prose and is its privilege. The work of art is a miracle towards which the artist, irrespective of his or her chances of succeeding, instinctively moves. With a feeling and a hope, rather than a reason and a plan—these come later. Of course the writer has at the outset of his task an idea of what he intends to do, but he does not care a damn about his narrative perhaps one day being called a long story, say, or a short novel, or even both by two different critics. His own initial assessment will be subject

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