grammar of Poetry
Consider these steps that were used in a Double Translation after the teacher translated a Latin work
1. The student copied the English translation over paying close attention to every word and its
2. The student wrote the English and Latin together one above the other making each language
answer to the other.
3. The student translated the original Latin to English on his own. (This was part one of the Double
4. Ten days later the student was given his final English translation and required to turn it back
into good Latin.
Benjamin Franklin wrote of a similar exercise that he employed to educate himself a century later. As
a young man, he came across a particular piece of writing that he delighted in, The Spectator, a series of
555 popular essays published in 1711 and 1712. These essays were intended to improve manners and
morals, raise the cultural level of the middle-class reader, and popularize serious ideas in science and
philosophy. These well written essays contained a style Franklin felt eager to emulate. Here Franklin
explains his method of “double translation” regarding The Spectator:
“With the view (imitating this great work) I took some of the papers, and making
short hints of the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and when,
without looking at the book, tried to complete these papers again, by expressing
each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any
suitable words that should occur to me. Then I compared my Spectator with the
original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.”
He became aware of his need for a greater stock of words in order to add variety and clarity of
thought to his writing.
“Therefore I took some of the tales in the Spectator, and turned them into verse; and,
after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.
I also sometimes jumbled my collection of hints into confusion, and after some weeks
endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the sentences
and complete the subject. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of
thoughts. By comparing my work with the original, I discovered many faults and
corrected them; but I sometimes had the pleasure to fancy that, in particulars of small
consequence, I had been fortunate enough to improve the method or the language,
and this encouraged me to think that I might in time become to be a tolerable English
writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.”
This Imitation In Writing series seeks to provide instruction in writing using the classical tool of
imitation. As we begin imitation in poetry, we will employ a similar method to what Franklin described.
We will find poems of truth, beauty, and goodness and emulate them, and maybe if we’re diligent, we
might in time become tolerable writers, too.