Some of you may be wondering what a magician does all day (apart from directing others to perform eleemosynary deeds). Good question. Right now I’m editing The Stories of Vladimir Putin. It’s a slow job since I don’t understand Russian, but I always feel a need to challenge myself. The story called Martha’s Mountain is wonderful, but the rest of the material is a little trashy, so I’m rather enjoying it (linguistic barriers notwithstanding).

But this isn’t the subject of today’s post. Instead I will write about truncation and the art of editing.

I’d like to make clear from the outset that I love Twitter. The idea of reducing complex (and at times beautiful) thought to 144 characters is as much a sign of the times as it is a brilliant metaphor for this generation’s shrinking attention span, which has, by the way, important evolutionary implications–a vitally important subject, and for that reason I will not be covering it. But even more brilliant that imposing a 144 character limit (an arbitrary limit, the type of thing some outmoded feudal lord might try to enforce) would have been to reduce elegant—or in today’s intellectual vacuum–dodgy thought to say 44 characters. Why not? A genius such as Dante—had he been interested in such things, rather than touring incessantly the darksome and dank bits of hell–would have settled upon no more than 9 characters, but this would have been too revolutionary.

But today’s project is to translate Edgar Allan Poe into English. Now I can already hear some you you saying that the stories from the undisputed master of horror are already in English. Yes, I am aware of that. Don’t ruffle my feathers.

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just finished a hearty dinner (with truffles) and was sitting alone in the dining-room, with my feet on a stool. There was a small table, which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some desserts and liquors. In the morning I had been reading some literature; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

And now, after a little editing:

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just finished a hearty dinner and was sitting alone in the dining-room. There was a small table with desserts and some alcoholic beverages. In the morning I had been reading some literature; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

Now that’s more like it. More twitter-like. But even that doesn’t hack it as it is 301 characters long.

The twitter version:

I had just finished a hearty dinner and was sitting alone in the dining-room. I am willing to confess, therefore, that I felt a little stupid.

That’s perfect. And it’s 143 characters long. That means I have one whole character to spare. I could add extra punctuation, a misplaced comma, for example, is always nice, or could substitute a three letter word for a four letter word. Semantics aside, what freedom! Of course brevity and sanity do not make great dance partners. We don’t understand, for instance, why this man felt stupid. But that’s a small price to pay for the privilege or the wow factor of tweeting.

Let’s have a look at the original (in Poe-glish):

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just consummated an unusually hearty dinner, of which the dyspeptic truffe formed not the least important item, and was sitting alone in the dining-room, with my feet upon the fender, and at my elbow a small table which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some apologies for dessert, with some miscellaneous bottles of wine, spirit and liqueur. In the morning I had been reading Glover’s “Leonidas, ” Wilkie’s “Epigoniad,” Lamartine’s “Pilgrimage, ” Barlow’s “Columbiad,” Tuckermann’s “Sicily,” and Griswold’s “Curiosities”; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

Isn’t that better? Where did we go wrong?



  1. May I suggest we “go wrong” around the age of six to eight months when Father becomes ‘Pa’, Mother, ‘Ma’ yet whatever sounds issue forth are greeted with such enthusiasm and excitement that the little tykes believe any future noises, or writings, to be totally acceptable and understood by all? Great post Prospero!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rob, you make a good point about children’s predilection to want to shorten the language–one word at a time (the little devils). Still, it’s best to send the children to bed (without large doses of sugar) and start in earnest your manifesto or that paper on astrophysics you’ve been itching to tackle, unfettered by the infantile demands of the underclass we call children. A better solution would be to reserve twitter for young children or non-verbal primates (no grunting allowed).

      Obviously this topic deserves more than one post. Perhaps Roxana, an occasional commenter on this site, who is incidentally captivated by Putin, will take up the challenge, expounding on your Ma and Pa theory. If there’s something there, she will find it and send it to the Kremlin–probably!

      How have you been Rob? Steadily better, I hope.


      • An astrophysical thesis on the cosmological influence of colour, sound and silence on the development of primate linguistic abilities – Mmm! Great idea! I will be intrigued as to Roxana input, should she take the challenge. I can then earnestly tackle the manifesto one word at a time – in stereo vision!
        The rest of my physical coming on well Prospero, thanks! Have missed your writing dexterity and humor! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “…in the dining room with my feet upon the fender…” So, did the guy have a car in his dining room? Or were his legs so long they reached out to the drive way? Just thinking of likely questions when –and IF— the twits were ever forced, probably in an English class conducted by some old biddy, to read that last passage.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this clever, imaginative, and lamentably accurate account of certain things that now seem true, Prospero.

    Oh, and the introductory photo is worth a thousand words.


    • Ah, yes, you liked my photo of “The Black Cat.”

      Fireplace fenders aside, others, such as 21st Century teens, might wonder why one would engage in sexual congress with an unusually hearty dinner!

      Liked by 1 person

      • …And it’s a good thing the narrator was alone, or, with company, there might have been some delightful, intellectual intercourse over dessert and liqueur about Griswold’s “Curiosities.”


      • It will soon be time to resurrect the Cynthia Wit-O-Meter.

        Yes, intercourse is always better than some meaningless pilgrimage, regardless of what Lamartine has to say about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I couldn’t possibly have satisfying intercourse with a mere 144 characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My point exactly (if you can pardon the crude, prickly pun–or double pun, as the case may be).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Cynthia this is really clever exercise and you accomplished what you set out to do. With this twitter short-cut way of writing I miss the elegance of writing imagery, a vision of sorts that lets viewer take in and be in the scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He’s not so elegant though, or taut? Poe had no PC to strike out redundancies, to destroy prepositions, those horrid conjunctions.

    In sense of narration – to talk it out, with eyes to audience? I’d kill the ‘it, the was, that and which..’ nnnh. He’s not really very poetic here. I mean of course he was, but…for play.

    Suppose the long-hand version is the most cautious – no danger of losing reader’s eye, no loss of ‘sense,’ but no fun – and not a nineteenth century consideration, I don’t suppose so.

    November afternoon consummated
    a dinner, dyspeptic truffe
    sat alone, dining-room, feet on fender.
    At my elbow, the table lit to fire,
    upon it – apologies for dessert, bottles: wine, spirit, liqueur.
    In the morning I had read
    Glover’s “Leonidas, ” Wilkie’s “Epigoniad,”
    Lamartine’s “Pilgrimage, ” Barlow’s “Columbiad,” Tuckermann’s “Sicily,” Griswold’s “Curiosities”;
    howl such confession, I am stupid…Poe

    Heh :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps Poe, motivated by the need to write something comico-satirical (or to satisfy his foolish preoccupation with paying the rent), lost some of the terseness of his macabre tales (though maybe not). And so dining on a dyspeptic truffe, among other things, would probably have been better revamped as having the u.n. (unnamed narrator) partake in a Thyestean feast, an ideal and esurient metaphor for gobbling up sharp-elbowed clauses, spleeny conjunctions, muscular pronouns, and fleshy prepositions–among other things.

      I must add in passing that neither your lengthy comment nor my Byzantine response is twitter-ready.


      • I am sorry, Prospero – misbehaving late at night, I thought to re-write Poe, as you do, God knows why…enjoyed your language btw, great fun.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Late evening is the best time to misbehave.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm…I actually love your edited versions – to be honest, some of the contemporary writing considered good and “poetic” makes me yawn and want to skip pages…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Naturally we have a different tolerance for description than they did in the nineteenth century. But there must be middle ground somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is better. However, form and content should match, according to what you want to say and how. Charles Bukowski and Raymond Chandler’s work stand as beautiful examples of brevity, poignancy and elegant, metaphor-free writing.
    Ooops, I’ve just exceeded my character limit 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very funny: You exceeded the quizzical character quota set by the twitter gods–and by a country mile. Back to Chandler.

      Liked by 1 person

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