Eliot Weinberger on Chinese Poetry.

Perry Link has an excellent NYRB review of two books by Eliot Weinberger, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways) and The Ghosts of Birds. The first presents a four-line poem by Wang Wei in Chinese characters, in a transliteration into modern Mandarin, in a character-by-character literal translation, and in thirty-four ways translators have tried to put it into English, French, Spanish, or German. (I note, with some indignation, the lack of a transliteration into Middle Chinese, the language in which the poem was composed; it’s as if Pangur Bán were presented only in Modern Irish, or Cædmon’s Hymn only in Modern English. You lose all the poetry.) The title of the poem is “Deer Fence” (or Deer Park, Deer Enclosure, Deer Forest Hermitage, etc.); here’s Weinberger’s literal translation:

Empty/mountain(s) [or] hill(s)/(negative)/to see/person [or] people
But/to hear/person [or] people/words or conversation/sound [or] to echo
To return/bright(ness) [or] shadow(s)/to enter/deep/forest
To return/to shine/green/moss/above

Link says:

Now the question becomes: How can one make another poem from the twenty bundles of meaning that the Chinese characters offer? Weinberger criticizes, astutely if sometimes unkindly, almost every translator he cites. […]

Broadly speaking, the problems for a translator, especially of poetry, and especially between languages as different as Chinese and English, are two: What do I think the poetic line says? And then, once I think I understand it, how can I put it into English? Differences in translations sometimes arise from the first problem; most, though, come from the second, where the impossibility of perfect answers spawns endless debate. The letter-versus-spirit dilemma is almost always at the center.

At the literalist extreme, there is a school of Western Sinology that aims to ferret out and dissect every conceivable detail about the language of an original. The dissection, though, normally does to the art of a poem approximately what the scalpel of an anatomy instructor does to the life of a frog. Peter A. Boodberg, a distinguished Sinologist at Berkeley fifty years ago, translates Wang Wei’s poem this way:

DEER WATTLE (HERMITAGE)

The empty mountain; to see no men,
Barely earminded of men talking—countertones
And antistrophic lights-and- shadows incoming deeper the deep-treed grove
Once more to glowlight the blue-green mosses—going up
(The empty mountain…)

Kudos for making fun of Boodberg (whom I made fun of back in 2008), and greater kudos for this discussion of Pound:

Weinberger is contemptuous of the Boodberg approach (“sounds like Gerard Manley Hopkins on LSD”) and is closer to, but not an extremist in, an approach that puts art at the center. He admires Ezra Pound’s versions of classical Chinese poems in Cathay, published in 1915. Pound learned some Chinese characters later in his life but in 1915 could base Cathay only on translations that others had done. His genius for language apparently got him close enough to the spirit of Chinese originals that he could correct mistakes in other translations “intuitively,” as Weinberger puts it. He stops short of calling Pound’s work “translation”; he endorses a phrase by T.S. Eliot, who leavened the question with gentle ambiguity when he said that Pound was “the inventor of Chinese poetry in our time.” Whether translations or inventions, though, Weinberger finds Pound’s renditions “some of the most beautiful poems in the English language.”

In the 1930s Pound became obsessed with the Book of Odes, China’s most ancient collection of poetry and song (and, some say, guide to government). Convinced that the existing English translations of the Odes were “appalling” and “intolerable,” and that there must be a great pearl inside the closed oyster if only he could get there, Pound, then over fifty years old, began to study Chinese characters. He could now “play the game of pretending to read Chinese,” as Weinberger puts it, and unleashed his fecund imagination upon “pictographic” characters in ways that serious Sinologists knew to be utterly groundless. Professors wrote articles exposing Pound’s errors in both interpretation of characters and translations of poems.

Weinberger’s implicit riposte, which I support, is: But do you do better? One can acknowledge a long list of Pound’s technical errors (Weinberger has some, too) and still point out that phrases like Boodberg’s “antistrophic lights-and-shadows” leave a reader much further from a Wang Wei poem than Pound does. Wai-lim Yip, a scholar of poetry who knows both English and Chinese well, notes that, despite the literal errors, in Pound “the ‘cuts and turns’ of the mind in the originals are largely preserved” and the “essential poems” are “luminous.” Could one say that of Boodberg? Options in the translation of poetry are complexly interconnected, and gaining something in one place almost inevitably means losing something in another. So here is a good rule of thumb: anyone who criticizes a given translation should be ready to offer an alternative that, all things considered, works better.

There’s a fine discussion of the problems presented to translators by Chinese “absences of subject, number, and tense” and praise of the essays in The Ghosts of Birds that makes me want the book, but I’ve quoted quite enough already. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. “About a decade ago I heard a Sinologist at Princeton rise to express the view that only in translation can the deepest meaning of a Tang poem be brought to light. (The issue was dropped after someone else asked if the reverse were also true: Does Shakespeare’s profundity emerge only in Chinese translation?)”

    About two and a half decades ago, a Sinologist at Kyoto University told our class that you only knew classical Chinese if you knew how to read it in kanbun kundoku style.

  2. You haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon. Everyone knows that.

  3. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if translations by dedicated foreign scholars did reveal profundities in Shakespeare overlooked by his native audience. Isn’t that more or less exactly what the Kling—er, Germans thought during the 19th century?

    There’s even a grain of truth in the assertion Ken reports. In the context of Japanese Sinology, if you can’t render a classical Chinese sentence kundoku style, you don’t actually understand it. The error lies in the confusion of this “evidence of understanding” with understanding itself–the failure to respect other ways of understanding the same material (e.g. by learning classical Chinese directly).

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Isn’t that more or less exactly what the Kling—er, Germans thought during the 19th century?

    I don’t know, but there is the joke that the translation by Schlegel & Tieck rendered Shakespeare a German classic. This translation became popular enough that everyone knows a few quotes – not as many as is current in English-speaking lands, but at least Sein oder nicht sein, das ist hier die Frage.

    (…Note the attempt to improve on Shakespeare by inserting hier to fill out the meter. Shakespeare didn’t bother in that is the question.)

  5. I have said in other fora that Shakespeare was the very greatest of the second-rank 19C German romantic poets, and I have had Germans agree wholeheartedly. But the meter needs no filling out:

    to bé | or nót | to bé || thát is | the qués | tion

    is a normal iambic pentameter line with a trochaic inversion at the caesura (which is a break in the sense, not the meter), plus a feminine ending. That’s completely vanilla in the context of English blank verse. Blank verse that consists solely of lines of five iambs is deathly boring.

  6. “…as we know, you really read an author only when you translate him, or when you compare his
    text with a translation, or when you confront versions in different languages.” (Italo Calvino)

  7. Matt: translation needn’t reveal hidden depths: a good translation can simply make a piece of literature far more understandable to the typical reader of the target language than the original is to (typical) native speakers of the original language.

    A more recent example than Shakespeare is Edgar Allan Poe: Charles Baudelaire’s translation into French is excellent, and crucially, comparing it to the original, my impression is that it is a much easier read to a native French speaker than the original is to a native English speaker: I once had some University students from an English department (native speakers, please note!) ask me for help in understanding some of the longer sentences, latinisms, and archaic words/turns of phrase of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

    (And the reason they had come to me for help was because their literature professors were all into “theory”, which at this particular department seemed to mean discovering latent indications of either homosexuality or racism in any text, especially those written by their departmental “colleagues”).

    I could not imagine francophone University students needing help in reading Baudelaire’s translation of Poe: he is no harder to understand than any other late nineteenth-century writer, indeed to me he is much clearer and easier to read than many a modern writer.

  8. A more recent example than Shakespeare is Edgar Allan Poe: Charles Baudelaire’s translation into French is excellent, and crucially, comparing it to the original, my impression is that it is a much easier read to a native French speaker than the original is to a native English speaker

    An idea Thom Gunn expressed humorously in a stanza from his poem “Readings in French”:

    Though Edgar Poë writes a lucid prose,
    Just and rhetorical without exertion,
    It loses all lucidity, God knows,
    In the single, poorly rendered English version.

  9. That’s a wonderful little quatrain.

  10. There is a certain charm, though, in the kind of obscurity of the 19th century English writers. Thomas Carlyle also comes to mind. I much prefer that to the kind of obscurity of 20th century French prose.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    I have said in other fora that Shakespeare was the very greatest of the second-rank 19C German romantic poets, and I have had Germans agree wholeheartedly.

    Heh. I’m not qualified to judge that! 🙂

    Blank verse that consists solely of lines of five iambs is deathly boring.

    I don’t think that’s a consideration in the German tradition.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    JC: the meter needs no filling out:

    to bé | or nót | to bé || thát is | the qués | tion

    Indeed the English verse needs no filling out, but the German equivalent, which does not have a “to”, is a little short on syllables.

  13. The book looks fascinating–thanks! I have to say that I really disagree with this, though:

    I note, with some indignation, the lack of a transliteration into Middle Chinese, the language in which the poem was composed; it’s as if Pangur Bán were presented only in Modern Irish, or Cædmon’s Hymn only in Modern English. You lose all the poetry.

    I know I’m fighting against quite formidable tides of fashion here (in transliterating Japanese poetry as well, by the way), but I think there are at least two big problems with this.

    One, substituting in the modern readings–in the topolect of your choice–for the characters is just not at all like actually translating a text into a grammatically distinct stage of the same language. The graphic continuity, stylistic inheritance, and thoroughgoing classicism of Chinese letters might be *just* enough for a modern native speaker to accept the proposition that Wang Wei’s poetry is in “the same language” as Lu Xun, but not even the most heroically credulous are going to be able to think that about, say, Beowulf and Billy Budd. It’s true that some less careful version of the same principle is beloved to many modern Chinese, who will swear up and down that you can only appreciate the Tang original in (coincidentally) their own topolect(‘s character readings).

    Second, this way of looking at it might be a touch naive about the assumed fidelity of the implicit alphabetic comparandum. On the one hand we have a lot of circumstantial evidence that people have been appreciating Latin and Greek poetry for millennia in all kinds of hilariously unfaithful pronunciations. From my understanding and limited experience, modern Greeks tend to pronounce Homer the way they’d read the newspaper out loud, and I can’t see any evidence that, say, their capacity of appreciation is inferior to that of academics more careful with aspirated stops and vowel length. Not to mention that the “original” spelling of many earlier Western works poorly reflected the pronunciation of the author–Old Irish in particular being the most terrifying example of the gap.

    I have to admit I’m a bit hypocritical in my own practice. I learned Greek and Latin from books, and naively following their classicizing instructions got used to something like reconstructed pronunciation. FOO-sis for φύσις still strikes me as a crime against Jupiter. But every time I hear it professed that, say, centuries of Japanese or Chinese poets were not quite getting the classical poetry that they lived, breathed, and usually memorized because they pronounced “spring” as haru instead of paru, or dropped all their syllable-final k’s t’s and p’s, I remember that I’m being silly, and “FOO-sis” is just fine.

  14. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Many years ago I translated a poem by Wang Wei and released it to the internet. I can’t find it now, but I did manage to find one I had translated of Li Bai:

    Seeing a Friend Off

    Green mountains range beyond the northern wall.
    White water rushes round the eastern town.
    Right here is where, alone and restless, he
    Begins a journey of a thousand miles.

    While travelers’ intents are fleeting clouds,
    A friend’s affection is a setting sun.
    He waves good-bye, and as he goes from here,
    His dappled horse lets out a lonely neigh.

    By Li Bai Tr. Stephen Carlson

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Indeed the English verse needs no filling out, but the German equivalent, which does not have a “to”, is a little short on syllables.

    Oh, that’s not the problem. Séin (dramatic pause) | óder | nícht sein, || is fine, or you could even consider the whole thing some kind of extrametrical exclamation. It’s || dás ist | híer die | Fráge where hier gives you three orderly trochees, while the original mixes trochees and iambs in the same line.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Actually I’m tempted to exaggerate the length of the vowel in the stressed open syllable and say | Fráa|ge: three trochees plus a coda syllable.

  17. One, substituting in the modern readings–in the topolect of your choice–for the characters is just not at all like actually translating a text into a grammatically distinct stage of the same language. The graphic continuity, stylistic inheritance, and thoroughgoing classicism of Chinese letters might be *just* enough for a modern native speaker to accept the proposition that Wang Wei’s poetry is in “the same language” as Lu Xun, but not even the most heroically credulous are going to be able to think that about, say, Beowulf and Billy Budd. It’s true that some less careful version of the same principle is beloved to many modern Chinese, who will swear up and down that you can only appreciate the Tang original in (coincidentally) their own topolect(‘s character readings).

    I don’t understand this. For one thing, I’m guessing modern native speakers are by and large not aware that Middle Chinese was as different from the modern language as Old English is from Modern; this is, of course, concealed from them by the continuity of characters, but it’s none the less true, and it is absurd to think you can appreciate ancient poetry just as well as the ancients by clicking your heels and pretending nothing’s changed. For another, it is in fact the case that almost any modern topolect other than Mandarin will give you a better idea of how the original worked, just as almost any Romance language other than French will give you a better idea of Vulgar Latin (though of course you’re still far from the original, so those topolect speakers who smugly assume they have the real poem are misguided).

    From my understanding and limited experience, modern Greeks tend to pronounce Homer the way they’d read the newspaper out loud, and I can’t see any evidence that, say, their capacity of appreciation is inferior to that of academics more careful with aspirated stops and vowel length.

    This too I don’t understand. Yes, modern Greeks pronounce the ancient language as if it were modern; what’s more, they insist that that’s the way the ancients pronounced it, that Greek has hardly changed at all in the last few thousand years (barring a few borrowed words that they’re generally embarrassed about), and that the idea that Ancient Greek was pronounced totally differently is a myth perpetrated by foreign scholars for their own dark and imperialistic reasons. Even the formidably learned and cosmopolitan George Seferis believed this nonsense. But what does their delusion have to do with what we’re talking about? Of course their capacity of appreciation is inferior to that of someone who can approximate the way the original actually sounded; for one obvious point, the meter is utterly lost in modern pronunciation. (For similar reasons, a couple of centuries after Chaucer people thought he was a primitive poet because his lines didn’t scan.) The fact that modern Greeks can “appreciate” ancient poetry is neither here nor there; so can people without a word of Greek. In both cases they’re appreciating it via translation; the fact that one cohort is under the delusion that that isn’t the case is irrelevant.

  18. Greg Pandatshang says:

    This would be an interesting task (and not so difficult): “translating” Caedmon syllable-by-syllable into modern English readings. I would substitute familiar English words where it’s a close match and otherwise just assume normal sound changes to estimate what the word would have become if it had survived into modern English. The result would be a verse that is still unintelligible both in terms of grammar and vocabulary, but contains a lot of familiar words and has a distinctly native sound. e.g.

    Now shylun hergan     heaven-reitcha’s Ward,

  19. Now shylun hergan heaven-reitcha’s Ward,

    This pains my moodythank.

  20. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Really? I think it’s beautiful.

  21. Well, -an and -un don’t really look like modern English morphemes, nor does reitch – didn’t rīce become rich? Though maybe with it being a suffix we’d get heavenry.

    There’s Anglish, of course, but that wouldn’t satisfy the condition of preserving all the old syllables.

    I think a better candidate for classicization along these lines might be Spanish: I’ve mused on the idea of hispanizing Latin inflexion, with -us and -is becoming -os and -es, -um/-unt and -am/-ant becoming -on and -an, and so forth. (French is too far gone sound-wise, and Italian has too many restrictions on final consonants.)

  22. Lazar: actually, it has been argued that early medieval Latin texts in the Iberian peninsula were meant to be read out loud in that fashion, i.e. with a vernacular pronunciation, and that to native speakers of Iberian Romance this “spoken Latin” (with its many alien words and endings) wasn’t so much a separate language as a semi-comprehensible, “Church” register of their spoken vernacular.

    All: it isn’t just the Greek and the Chinese literati who have never heard of sound change! I once had a Belgian colleague who taught Old French literature, and to him the notion that Old French was, phonologically, unlike modern standard French was simply incomprehensible. I mean this literally: he didn’t reject the idea, he simply couldn’t understand it.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    I mean this literally: he didn’t reject the idea, he simply couldn’t understand it.

    Amazing.

    I wonder how he’d have reacted to that work from the 16th century or so that makes the case for why people should write in French at all (as opposed to Latin). One reason is, of course, that it’s a beautiful language – because of all its diphthongs!

  24. The ironic thing of course is that diligently pronouncing all your /p/ as [p] in Old Japanese isn’t all that much better than using the modern pronunciation, since non-initially they were likely realized more like [b] or even [β]. I fully expect this to become the next “You don’t really understand Old Japanese” shibboleth.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    David: why people should write in French at all (as opposed to Latin). One reason is, of course, that it’s a beautiful language – because of all its diphthongs!

    Not only diphthongs, but triphthongs! (as in beau [be-a-w] — later [bo]).

  26. I draw Hatters’ attention to the paper Translating Classical Chinese Poetry ino English: Challenges and a possible solution — a case study of translating Li Po’s “Grievance on Jaded Steps” by Xuelai Qiu in which he compares the following three translations of the poem:

    Ezra Pound

    The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance
    The jeweled steps are already quite white with dew,
    It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stocking,
    And I let down the crystal curtain
    And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

    Sun Daiyu

    Plaint on Gem Steps
    Dew drops on the gem steps fall’n cool
    Through her flimsy silken socks seep;
    Stepping down through the screen of crystal beads
    She at the sparkling autumnal moon doth peep.

    Zong-qi Cai

    Lament of the Jade Stairs
    On jade stairs, the rising white dew
    Through the long night pierces silken hose;
    Retreating inside, she lowers crystal shades
    And stares at the glimmering autumn moon.

    In discussing what makes the translation of Chinese poem into English “inherently deficient”, Qiu recognises both linguistic-level difficulties and discrepancies on the aesthetic level. But what exercised his mind most was the different functions of literature in China and the West.

    ‘[A] poem in the Western tradition belongs to art, and the poet assumes the role of creator…. In line with the concept of literature in Western tradition, a poem is a form of literary art which displays the properties of beauty in language… It is not essential for poems to deliver any message’. On the other hand, in the Chinese tradition, the relationship between a poet and his poem is such that ‘the poem is not something made by the poet but an outward manifestation of his mind in language. A Chinese poet is not a godlike creator of the poem; rather, he uses the poem to manifest his intent.’

    Qiu noted that the ‘diverse notions of poetry in Chinese and Western traditions are somewhat mutually exclusive in that what is considered a poem in one tradition is nullified by the definition of poetry in the other.’

    This leads to the question of reading: ‘what does the appropriate mode for reading Chinese poems entail?’

    Knowing Li Po’s intention for writing it, Qiu notes that Chinese readers might examine Li Po’s political ideology and the socioeconomic status quo of that particular time in history, and develop their own judgment on issues like Li Po’s political ideals, the reason for his abandonment by the Emperor, etc. ‘Their judgment on such issues would necessarily shape their opinions of the poem, of Li Po’s personality and his dealings with the court politics. However, if we read this poem from a purely aesthetic mode of reading, we will not be able to approach the inner mind of the poet, nor our take on this poem will shape our inner mind.’

    Qiu’s proposed solution in order to achieve an “intelligent reading” is that translators should add explanatory notes following their translation of each Chinese poem, which would serve as a channel communicating their own reading of the original poem to their readers, as well as an aid to improve readers’ cultural understanding of the original Chinese poem.

    Personally, I doubt that this solution would find great favour with most Western readers precisely because of the problem that Qiu points out. Western readers expect poetry to be ‘a form of literary art which displays the properties of beauty in language’. What people want is beautiful words, not introductions to the political concerns of scholar-officials over a millennium ago.

  27. O, hi all!

    I note, with some indignation, the lack of a transliteration into Middle Chinese, the language in which the poem was composed …

    Are we calling it “transliteration” this millennium? Why wasn’t the shift away from “romanisation” gazetted? I’ll be writing to my local member.

    I recently translated “Sumuzhe” by Fan Zhongyan (989–1052), with the help of scattered more or less garbled attempts retrieved on the web (how did a frog get in there?) but also assiduous research into each character (or zi).

    Two stanzas, matching numbers of syllable-characters in corresponding lines. Apparently the poem is set to a tune called Sumuzhe, so that makes a kind of sense. How could I reflect the form of the original? Some lines are just three characters long. I decided to do syllable-counting also, but double the number. This gave me some faint hope of evoking the original sound pattern, supplemented by rhyme which the poet also used. My strategy also allowed semantic room to move in our more spacious language. But how to fill in that content? So terse, so remote, so much a research-resistant rorschach … I had to guess a lot. But at least no frog materialised. [Why do three points in a row get converted into a pre-composed ellipsis, everywhere? What’s wrong with three dots? The existence of a feature is no argument for its use. Take note, webtechnofolk.]

    First line:

    碧云天
    bì yún tiān
    blue/green; cloud; sky/day

    Hmm. The modern pinyin romanisation misses the poet’s own pronunciations of course. Here’s what I do with it:

    Azure sky, wisps of cloud –

    And a rhyme with “shroud”, later.

    I could have posted this at another thread concerned with Google translation and Searle’s infamous Chinese room (I sometimes feel like that hapless room-bound translator when I visit China); or indeed, the thread where “pavilion” is discussed. Is not all one?

  28. Noetica! Nice to see you around these parts again. And yes, all is one.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, Noetica!

  30. David Marjanović says:

    Are we calling it “transliteration” this millennium? Why wasn’t the shift away from “romanisation” gazetted?

    The pedantic version is as follows:

    Transcription: rendering in another script.
    Transliteration: rendering letters of a more or less alphabetic script 1 : 1 in those of another. Usually requires a bunch of diacritics.
    Romanisation: rendering in more or less Roman letters.

    Now imagine a Venn diagram… 🙂

    What’s wrong with three dots?

    Their spacing is often irregular, e.g. in MS Word. I have no idea how that’s even possible.

    Noetica! Nice to see you around these parts again.

    Seconded! *bounce* *bounce* ^_^

  31. *bounce* *bounce*

    *bounce* *bounce* *bounce*

    Their spacing is often irregular, e.g. in MS Word. I have no idea how that’s even possible.

    Um, the spacing only gets irregular if you do the ellipsis points with spaces in between:

    . . .

    Chicago and most of the US favour that form. Hard spaces (nonbreaking spaces) are then needed, so that the points can’t get separated at a linebreak. Hard spaces do not stretch like normal spaces when the line is full-justified in Word, as David fears they might.

    The Rest of the World is happy with three unspaced full stops, which I can’t represent here because the software converts them to a single pre-formed ellipsis that brings no advantage whatsoever and is hostage to exactly how the typeface shows that character. There’s zero reason to take control away from the writer (unless it be on principle to make three, along with all, one).

    Also, how does this software direct the apostrophe in ’tis? Ach! Gets it right! But ‘cello and ‘sblood? Nah.

  32. David, Noetica: Transcription has nothing to do with scripts necessarily. It refers to the approximate representation of one language using written conventions not normally used for that language For example, an (American) English transcription of the German word for ‘truce’ might be VOFF-en-shtill-shtahnt: note that the transcription is in the same script as the original. Of course, transcription targets can also be phonetic alphabets such as IPA or Visible Speech rather than other languages.

    Postal Code romanizations of Chinese cities like Soochow and Hangchow are an English-based romanization of bits of Chinese. Per contra, the word 布尔什维克 Bù’ěrshéwéikè began life as a Chinese-based transcription of болшевик (though it is now the standard spelling of the word). Though 布尔什维克 is written with five 字 ‘characters’, and pronounced with five 字 ‘syllables’, it is only one 字 ‘morpheme’.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Um, the spacing only gets irregular if you do the ellipsis points with spaces in between:

    Not in my experience. And your example with the spaces has 6 pixels between both pairs of points on my screen.

    Transcription has nothing to do with scripts necessarily. It refers to the approximate representation of one language using written conventions not normally used for that language

    True, thanks!

    болшевик

    большевик

  34. Not in my experience. And your example with the spaces has 6 pixels between both pairs of points on my screen.

    No no, the two spaces among the three dots will be the same, as I showed them above. I was not there attempting to exhibit irregularity: just spaced dots à la Chicago Manual of Style. In Word, such spaces will grow wider than spaces between comparable dots elsewhere – if they are in a full-justified line that happens to need procrustean stretching. Yes? If not that, I can’t imagine what you meant when you wrote this: “Their spacing is often irregular, e.g. in MS Word. I have no idea how that’s even possible.” What did you mean by spacing? What did you mean by irregular? What did you mean by I have no idea how that’s even possible? O, and what did you mean by between both pairs of points? There were three points! I suppose you meant between the middle point and the left point, and the middle point and the right point. Or have I missed your point? The case is interesting. Compare between each paling of the fence. Something like that was once discussed hereabouts. I maintained that it makes no sense.

    The stretching I speak of, attempting to make sense of what you wrote, is removed by using hard spaces between dots (applied with control-shift-spacebar, in Word for Windows). With three contiguous dots (no spaces between), the appearance is always the same in Word – and they do not break apart at a linebreak. So why use a single special character to replace them, ever?

  35. Yes, between each paling has no sensible compositional sense, and it’s not even hard to rephrase it to something that does, but I can’t imagine that it will really confuse (as opposed to annoy) anybody. Don’t sweat the little things.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    If not that, I can’t imagine what you meant when you wrote this: “Their spacing is often irregular, e.g. in MS Word. I have no idea how that’s even possible.” What did you mean by spacing?

    There won’t be the same number of pixels between the 1st and the 2nd (first pair) as between the 2nd and the 3rd dot (second pair) – if the dots directly follow each other, without spaces.

    Maybe it’s actually a zooming issue. Strange things happen to the width of the figure 0 in Acrobat Reader at certain magnifications.

  37. Between each has been current since at least 1599, when the poetry collection The Passionate Pilgrim was printed with the contents attributed to Shakespeare. Poem 7’s true author is unknown, though it has the same form as Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis”:

    Fair is my love, but not so fair as fickle;
    Mild as a dove, but neither true nor trusty;
    Brighter than glass, and yet, as glass is, brittle;
    Softer than wax, and yet, as iron, rusty:
    A lily pale, with damask dye to grace her,
    None fairer, nor none falser to deface her.

    Her lips to mine how often hath she joined,
    Between each kiss her oaths of true love swearing!
    How many tales to please me hath she coined,
    Dreading my love, the loss thereof still fearing!
    Yet in the midst of all her pure protestings,
    Her faith, her oaths, her tears, and all were jestings.

    She burn’d with love, as straw with fire flameth;
    She burn’d out love, as soon as straw outburneth;
    She framed the love, and yet she foil’d the framing;
    She bade love last, and yet she fell a-turning.
    Was this a lover, or a lecher whether?
    Bad in the best, though excellent in neither.

    It would be merest pedantry to insist on between each pair of adjacent kisses.

  38. David:

    O that. Probably a rendering and zooming issue only, which would mean equal trouble for the single-character version also. Word still assumes print as the final product: not screen presentation with its pixel-imposed graininess.

    John:

    It would be merest pedantry to insist on between each pair of adjacent kisses.

    Merest, schmerest: the semantics is of interest. And do let’s use Shakespeare with caution as an examplar:

    “Be my horses ready?”
    “thou’s hear our counsel”
    “more proudlier”
    “You are a thousand times a properer man / Than she a woman”
    “Thou losest here, a better where to find”
    “Nature prompts them / In simple and low things to prince it”

    What poesy permits is one thing; what makes for exact discourse, another.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Probably a rendering and zooming issue only, which would mean equal trouble for the single-character version also.

    But, the fun thing is, it doesn’t – the single-character version is rendered perfectly on the screen.

  40. I should say, “do let’s use even Shakespeare with caution as an examplar”. But despite countless oddities such as I have shown just now, I find nothing like that Passionate Pilgrim use in Shakespeare. Here’s an interesting one from Hooke (“Observation 39. Of the Eyes and Head of a Grey drone-Fly, and of several other creatures”, Micrographia, 1667):

    [T]he greatest part of the face, nay, of the head was nothing else but two large and protuberant bunches, or prominent parts … the surface of each of which was cover’d over, or shap’d into a multitude of small Hemispheres plac’d in a triagonal order, that is being the closest and most compacted, and in that order, rang’d over the whole surface of the eye in very lovely rows, between each of which, as is necessary, were left long and regular trenches, the bottoms of every of which, were perfectly intire, and not at all perforated or drill’d through, which I most certainly was assured of, by the regularly reflected Image of certain Objects which I mov’d to and fro between the head and the light …

    Let the reader judge whether these rough notes, ambered for posterity, constitute “exact discourse” or no.

    Meanwhile I note that the software does not allow underlining! Such censoriousness. Any old words will do; but we must at all costs be denied the lucid markup of our choice. I wanted underlining for a larger portion of Hooke’s text. It is by far the best editorial emphasis marker, since underlining rarely turns up in the printed source under analysis.

    Is there a guide somewhere, so we can know how to do indents, links, and everything else?

    David:

    But, the fun thing is, it doesn’t – the single-character version is rendered perfectly on the screen.

    No difference between the single-character and the three-full-stop versions in Word (for Windows), according to 15 minutes of experiments I have conducted today. At various resolutions on various monitors, in various typefaces and sizes. I found none of the anomalies you speak of.

  41. But let’s note this, in words given to Henry VI (2 Henry VI):

    “His fortunes I will weep, and ‘twixt each groan / Say ‘Who’s a traitor? Gloucester he is none.’ ” [‘twixt!]

    Tantamount.

    I see now that the software also converts ‘ + ‘ to a single “. Tsk.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    Is there a guide somewhere, so we can know how to do indents, links, and everything else?

    <blockquote>

    <a href=”http://www.asdf.com”>
    <strike>

    No difference between the single-character and the three-full-stop versions in Word (for Windows), according to 15 minutes of experiments I have conducted today.

    Huh. I’ll experiment ASAP.

  43. Your examples show rather that not every construction admissible in EModE has survived to ModE. However, there is no question here of between each not surviving; I am merely demonstrating that it has been part of Standard English for a long time.

    Per contra, some ModE constructions did not exist in EModE: The warship is being built would seem bizarre to someone in Shakespeare’s day, who would express the passive progressive by The warship is (a)building.

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