Secondary English

Prose poetry: comparing texts

On the blog this week is a very modern exemplar of that unusual genre of literature, the prose poem. The term originates from the famous French poet, Baudelaire, who described his 1869 publication, ‘Paris Spleen’, as ‘Little Poems in Prose’.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a prose poem as: “a work in prose that has some of the technical or literary qualities of a poem (such as regular rhythm, definitely patterned structure, or emotional or imaginative heightening) but that is set on a page as prose.”

‘Chessiderata’ opens with a deliberate parody of Max Ehrmann’s famous prose poem, ‘Desiderata’. Both pieces are overtly philosophical but whereas ‘Desiderata’ offers an unashamedly optimistic perspective on the Universe, ‘Chessiderata’ explores the darker side of life through the medium of the ancient war game of chess.

You might wish to read both of these texts with your students and then ask them to:

  1. Analyse the ways in which ‘Chessiderata’ conforms to the prose poem genre.
  2. Explain how the title, ‘Chessiderata’, and the accompanying picture are effective and how they link to the text.
  3. Explain some of the thoughts and feelings that the author of ‘Chessiderata’ expresses about life.
  4. Compare ‘Chessiderata’ with ‘Desiderata’ in terms of attitudes, use of language and structure.
  5. Write a prose poem of your own in which you reflect upon an aspect of life which is of fundamental importance to you.


This activity can be used to introduce students at KS3 to different types of literature and extend their abilities as critical readers. It is also suitable as preparation for the comparative and analytical components of GCSE.

Copyright Brian Mitchell

Download: Chessiderata

Read: Desiderata

Peter Morrisson

Peter Morrisson is a teacher, author and director of animated films. He currently lectures at the Isle of Man College of Further and Higher Education.

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