About The Humble Essayist
The Humble Essayist: Lyric Prose
Where Poetry and Prose Meet
Revised Mission 2019
Lyric prose is an oxymoron for the quicksilver beauty of the finest passages of nonfiction. It happens when lyric poetry insinuates itself into prose. It happens when prose invites poetry in. It is the defining quality of the most powerful moments in any great personal essay or memoir, and it will be the new focus of The Humble Essayist.
In a way this mission is nothing new for us at THE. For nearly five years we have been selecting and commenting on prose that sees itself as art first and a source of information second, and we will continue with that mission, but we will make the focus on lyric prose explicit and pursue it in a more deliberate way.
We begin with definitions, impeccably written definitions taken from writers of poetry and philosophy. What do we mean by the terms “lyric,” “prose,” and “lyric prose.” What possibilities does lyrical prose open for the writer and the reader. Once we have defined the project, we turn our attention to the best practitioners of the art, offering a brief prose Passage of the Week followed by commentary as usual, though the commentary will often require more than a single paragraph.
We do not intend to identify a new genre or coin yet another confusing literary term! We are still reeling here from “creative nonfiction” and “the lyric essay.” Rather we hope to isolate a quality—that thing of breathtaking beauty at the heart of the best personal nonfiction—that we most admire.
Original Mission 2014
We agree with Vivian Gornick who writes in The Situation and the Story that essayists, when they are writing, are only interested in their own existence as a means of “penetrating the situation at hand.” They are “truth speakers” and their delight is not in self aggrandizement but in the illumination of an idea. Or, as we at THE like to say, the humble essayist is the happy essayist.
THE is a website devoted to the personal essay and the reflective memoir, forms that use the personal to shine a light on a truth that speaks to us all. Our main feature is the “Paragraph of the Week.” Every Friday we choose a single paragraph from the work of a renowned or promising writer and display it on the front page of the site beside commentary by The Humble Essayist. The commentary pays attention to the craft of the paragraph—celebrating the beauty of the author’s stylistic choices—but also shows how that paragraph embodies and serves the theme that the author is exploring.
The inaugural issue of THE was July 4, 2014, which was 169 years to the day after Henry David Thoreau moved to his cabin on Walden pond. The first “Paragraph of the Week” was devoted to a passage from Thoreau's "Walking”, one of the most stunning and influential essays ever written. It was an auspicious beginning for our humble enterprise.
In addition to the “Paragraph of the Week” we also offer an archive of the year’s paragraphs with commentary, a way to contact us, and links to other sites that promote essays and memoirs. Finally, you can learn about the humble essayist himself with the tab marked THE. It is our humble wish that THE will introduce you to many engaging authors, styles, and ideas.