1. Paraphrasing is a kind
of exercise that is not without its uses. These uses are chiefly two: (i) to
bind the learner’s attention closely to every word and phrase, meaning and shade
of meaning; and (ii) to enable the teacher to see whether the learner has
accurately and fully understood the passage. But no one can hope to improve on
the style of a poem by turning the words and phrases of the poet into other
language; the change made is always—or almost always—a change for the worse.
2. Passages from good prose
writers are sometimes given out to paraphrase, but most often passages from
poetical writers. The reason of this is that poetry is in general much more
highly compressed than prose, and hence the meaning is sometimes obscure, for
want of a little more expansion. The following lines by Sir Henry Wotton, the
Provost of Eton College, are a good example of much thought compressed within a
THE HAPPY LIFE.
1. How happy is
he born and taught
That serveth not another’s will—
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!
2. Whose passions not his masters
Whose soul is still prepared for
Not tied unto the worldy care
Of public fame or private breath.
3. Who envies none that chance doth
Or vice; who never understood
How deepest wounds are given by
Nor rules of state, but rules of
4. Who hath his life from humours
Whose conscience is his strong
Whose state can neither flatterers
Nor ruin make accusers great;
5. Who God doth late and early pray
More of His grace than gifts to lend;
And entertains the harmless day
With a well-chosen book or friend:—
6. This man is freed from servile
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall—
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And, having nothing, yet hath all.
Let us try now to paraphrase these lines—that is, to develop the thought by the
aid of more words. But, though we are obliged to use more words, we must do our
utmost to find and to employ the most fitting. We must not merely throw down a
mass of words and phrases, and leave the reader to make his own selection and to
grope among them for the meaning.
1. How happy, by birth as well as by education, is the man who is not
obliged to be a slave to the will of another—whose only armour is his
honesty and simple goodness, whose best and utmost skill lies in plain
2. How happy is the man who is not the
slave of his own passions, whose soul is always prepared for death, who is not
tied to the world or the world’s opinion by anxiety about his public reputation
or the tattle of individuals.
3. Happy, too, because he envies no man
who has been raised to a rank by accident or by vicious means; because he never
understood the sneer that stabs while it seems to praise; because he cares
nothing for rules of expediency or of policy, but thinks only of what is good
4. Who has freed himself from obedience to humours and to whims, whose
conscience is his sure stronghold; whose rank is not exalted enough to draw
flatterers, or to tempt accusers to build their own greatness upon his fall.
5. Who, night and morning, asks God for grace, and not for gifts; and
fills his day with the study of a good book or conversation with a
6. This man is freed from the slavery of hope and fear—the hope of
rising, the fear of falling—lord, not of lands, but of himself; and though
without wealth or possessions, yet having all that the heart of man need