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(This is not about Japanese characters.)

I'm interested in typesetting a translation of a classical Japanese waka poetry collection. This means a large number of very short poems, all with prose prefaces. I've looked into the poemscol, verse, and poetry packages but I'm having trouble deciding if any of these actually have the specific functionality that I need.

Each poem has four parts:

  1. A prefatory editorial comment by me
  2. The prose preface to the poem and the author (these are part of the original collection and need to be clearly differentiated from #1. In Word etc. I would indent this part)
  3. The poem itself, which should be 5 lines set in two columns -- one with the romanized Japanese and one with the translation. The poem number should appear in the margin here. (I usually indent this one level further than #2, but that's not necessary)
  4. A footnote, with no mark in the text, that gives additional notes about poetic devices and cultural references that can't be done in the translation itself.

The parts I'm least sure about are differentiating 1 and 2, and doing the two columns for 3. The poem numbers will not change, and the poems will always be 5 short lines, so some amount of hard coding there should be acceptable. I've done some searching and I see various tricks to get the two columns working.

Is there anyone familiar with these packages who has some advice? I'm going to try playing around with them today but the packages seem geared towards Western poetry and don't necessarily allow for some of the peculiarities of the Japanese collections.

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Here is a suggestion. The idea is a simple poem environment. The title of the poem (first mandatory argument) is centered; the introductory and preface texts (and title) are arguments (second and third mandatory) to the poem environment and placed in their own parboxes. The text of the original is entered line by line thanks to \obeylines; the \translation macro begins the translation (also line by line) -- saveboxes hold the texts which are then used at the end of the poem environment. There is an optional fifth argument to the poem environment which is accommodates a possible footnote you might require.

I have made hanging indentation in the texts to handle long lines. There is an optional first argument to the poem environment that allows for line numbering should you want or need it -- see the second example.

This is a barebones proposal, which I hope you will alter to your liking.

\documentclass{article}

\usepackage[papersize={5.5in,8.5in},margin=0.6in]{geometry}
\usepackage{xcolor}
\usepackage{fontspec}
\usepackage{tikz}
\usepackage{keyval}

\newsavebox{\origtext}
\newsavebox{\trantext}
\newcounter{origlines}
\newcounter{tranlines}
\newcounter{textnum}
\newif\ifpoemnums

\makeatletter
\define@key{poems}{poemnums}[true]{\csname poemnums#1\endcsname}
\makeatother

%% |=====8><-----| %%

\NewDocumentEnvironment{poem}{O{}m+m+m+o}{% title; pref; intro; optional footnote
    \setkeys{poems}{#1}
    \stepcounter{textnum}
    \setcounter{origlines}{0}
    \setcounter{tranlines}{0}
    \centerline{#2}
    \par
    \smallskip
    \parbox{\textwidth}{#3}%
    \par
    \smallskip
    \parbox{0.75\textwidth}{\itshape#4}%
    \par
    \smallskip
    %% Get the original text
    \begin{lrbox}{\origtext}
        \begin{minipage}[t]{0.4\textwidth}
            \obeylines
            \leftskip1.25em
            \parindent-1.25em
            \ifpoemnums\everypar={\stepcounter{origlines}\theoriglines. }\fi
}{%
        \end{minipage}
    \end{lrbox}
    %% Put it all together:
    \noindent
    \llap{\thetextnum.\quad}%
    \usebox{\origtext}%
    \hspace{0.5in}%
    \usebox{\trantext}%
    \par
    \IfNoValueF{#5}{%
        \smallskip
        \hbox to 1in{\hrulefill}\par
        \parbox{\textwidth}{#5}
    }
    \bigskip
}

\NewDocumentCommand{\translation}{}{%
        \end{minipage}
    \end{lrbox}
    %% Get the translation
    \begin{lrbox}{\trantext}
        \begin{minipage}[t]{0.4\textwidth}
            \obeylines
            \leftskip1.5em
            \parindent-1.5em
            \ifpoemnums\everypar={\llap{\stepcounter{tranlines}\thetranlines. }}\fi
}

%% |=====8><-----| %%

\parindent0pt

\begin{document}

\begin{poem}{The Title of the Poem}{The preface to the poem which might be a few lines. And here is a little more text for the preface, as promised.}{And this is the introduction to the poem proper. And this is just a bit more text.}[A footnote that explains the translation, if necessary.]
This is the poem
This is more
And this is more
And this is yet more
And this to finish up
\translation
This is the poem
This is more
And this is more
And this is yet more
And this to finish up
\end{poem}

\begin{poem}[poemnums]{The Title of Another Poem}{The preface to the poem which might be a few lines. And here is a little more text for the preface, as promised.}{And this is the introduction to the poem proper. And this is just a bit more text.}%[A footnote that explains the translation, if necessary.]
This is the poem
This is more
And this is more
And this is yet more and this might go on for a bit
And this to finish up
\translation
This is the poem
This is more
And this is more
And this is yet more
And this to finish up
\end{poem}

\end{document}

poem sample

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  • 2
    It’s the OP’s decision, but I like the choice to typeset the editorial note and the introduction in different styles. I’d normally expect the translated material to be in the same style and the translator’s insertions to be italicized, though? – Davislor Jul 8 '20 at 19:14
  • Thank you -- this looks good and I think I can modify it to my liking as you said. However, MikTeX is giving me a compile error for "halfletter undefined" and Overleaf throws up all kinds of warnings and errors about brackets and missing end/begins (although the compile works). – Chris Kern Jul 8 '20 at 19:24
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    @ChrisKern My hideously bad! 'halfletter' is my shorthand for 5.5in-by-8.5in paper. Corrected in the code. I did compile this with TeXLive2020 (actually MacTeX2020) without issue. Hope this fixes the problem. – sgmoye Jul 8 '20 at 20:08
  • Thank you so much! It works fine now in MiKTeX. Overleaf is still complaining but I think that's a problem with Overleaf rather than your code (since it compiles fine in Overleaf, the editor just doesn't like it). – Chris Kern Jul 8 '20 at 20:11
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You said you were willing to do some hard coding for the verses. The following, I think, provides the skeleton of what you are after.

% poemprob.tex SE 552747
\documentclass{article}

\newcounter{poemnum}

\begin{document}

\begin{center}
A POEM
\end{center}
\setcounter{poemnum}{1}

Prefatory editorial comment. Just make this a couple of lines to see how
these compare with the following preface. 

\begin{quote}
Prose preface to the poem and the author (these are part of the original 
collection and need to be clearly differentiated from the editorial comment.
\end{quote}

\begin{center}
 \marginpar{\thepoemnum} % poem number in the margin
\vspace{-\baselineskip} % make tabular align with poem number
\begin{tabular}{p{0.4\textwidth}cp{0.4\textwidth}}
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
\end{tabular}
\end{center}

\footnotetext[\thepoemnum]{A footnote}

\begin{center}
ANOTHER POEM
\end{center}
\setcounter{poemnum}{6}
Prefatory editorial comment.

\begin{quote}
Prose preface to the poem and the author (these are part of the original 
collection and need to be clearly differentiated from the editorial comment.
\end{quote}

\begin{center}
\marginpar{\thepoemnum}
\begin{tabular}{p{0.4\textwidth}cp{0.4\textwidth}}
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
Japanese text & English text \\
\end{tabular}
\end{center}

\footnotetext[\thepoemnum]{A footnote}

\end{document}
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  • Thank you -- that may be a little more hard coded than I would like because I still would like to keep formatting details open without having to change every single poem. But the use of & to set the two columns looks useful and maybe I can integrate that somehow into the poemscol or verse environment. – Chris Kern Jul 8 '20 at 17:08

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