Never the Twain shall Meet

In Act III, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s [amazon_link id=”0198324006″ target=”_blank” ]The Tragedy of Macbeth[/amazon_link], Banquo tells Macbeth that he will ride as far as he can before supper:

As far, my lord, as will fill up the time
’Twixt this and supper. Go not my horse the better,
I must become a borrower of the night
For a dark hour or twain. (25 – 28)*

The word “twain” derives from the [amazon_link id=”1405152729″ target=”_blank” ]Old English[/amazon_link] word twegen, simply meaning “the number two (2).” Essentially, Banquo states that he will be riding in the dark an hour or two if his horse is slow. (Poets frequently use “twain” instead of “two” at the ends of lines for rhyming purposes.)

A modern usage of the word “twain” means “two things that when compared are found to be subsequently different as to have no leave to unite.” The poet and author [amazon_link id=”1856266699″ target=”_blank” ]Rudyard Kipling[/amazon_link] (1865 – 1936) is credited with this usage.

In his [amazon_link id=”0156186004″ target=”_blank” ]A Collection of Essays[/amazon_link] (1946, 1981) author George Orwell (1903 – 1950) asserts that Kipling “… is the only English writer of our time who has added phrases to the [English] language” (126). T. S. Eliot writes of Kipling in the introduction of his [amazon_link id=”B000XWJV0K” target=”_blank” ]A Choice of Kipling’s Verse[/amazon_link] that Kipling has:

 “an immense gift for using words, and amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and all his senses, the mask of an entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that thenceforth we are never sure when it is not present (emphasis is the author’s)” (22)

It is notable that these two admirers of Kipling are accomplished and esteemed authors in their own merit, who certainly appreciated the level of creativity and skill, which Kipling applied in his craft of writing.

Both phrases, “East is East, and West is West” and “never the twain shall meet” are credited to Kipling, and are found in his poem, “The Ballad of East and West” (1889.) This identical quatrain (stanza) both opens and closes the poem. Some scholars believe that Kipling is lamenting the gulf of understanding between the British and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent when he wrote:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth! (1 – 4)

Now you know where the phrase “never the twain shall meet” came from.

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.

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Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “Never the Twain shall Meet.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 22 August 2011. Web. [today’s date].

Note: The citation entry on the “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page must have a “hanging indent.” The second line should be indented 5 spaces.

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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