What is a paraphrase and how do you write one?Here's the best definition I can come up with of a paraphrase:
"A piece of modern speech you can imagine the speaker of the original poem saying that conveys in different words exactly and fully every shade of meaning in the original poem, both what's said and what's implied."A paraphrase will have none of the beauty or effectiveness of the original. It merely aims, in its prosy way, to spell out the literal meaning. It will not substitute for the original, then, but will help us appreciate the compactness and complexity of many poems.
- Write in prose, not verse (in prose the lines go all the way to right margin). The line breaks of the original are irrelevant in paraphrasing.
- Write modern prose, rearranging word order and sentence structure as necessary. (Here are some examples and exercises relating to this task.) As far as possible, within the limits of commonsense, avoid using the words of the original. Finding new words to express the meaning is a test of what you are understanding.
- Write coherent syntax, imitating that of the original if you can do so with ease, otherwise breaking it down into easier sentence forms.
- Write in the same grammatical person and tense as the original. If the original is in the first person, as many poems are, so must the paraphrase be.
- Expand what is condensed.
- Spell out explicitly what the original implies or conveys by hints. It follows that a paraphrase will normally be longer than the original.
- Spell out explicitly all the possible meanings if the original is ambiguous (saying two or more things at once), as many poems are.
- Use square brackets to mark off any additional elements you find it necessary to insert for the coherence of the meaning. The brackets will show that these bits are editorial -- contributed by you for the sake of clarity but not strictly "said" in the original. An example might be some implied transitional phrase or even an implied thought that occurs to the speaker causing a change in tone or feeling.
- Accompany a paraphrase exercise that you hand in with a copy of the original poem, unless otherwise instructed. In paraphrasing a short poem you will not normally intersperse the original text; I do that in my sample (see below) merely for convenience.
Here is a sample paraphrase of a fairly difficult poem, John Donne's "The Sun Rising."