Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beautiful sentences

I saw a post the other day on “50 of the most beautiful sentences in literature.” 

I liked many of these but this is a long way from any list I’d put together. For example, one choice on the list was: “She was lost in her longing to understand.” From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, Love in the Time of Cholera. The problem with this, for me, is that it’s obvious. There’s nothing profound. It seems almost cliché.

Another weak one, to me, was: “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” From Nicole Krauss, The History of Love. This seems maudlin to me, and cliché. I don’t like it at all.

On the other hand, some that I did like were: “In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.” From Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is lovely. It resonates to me. It evokes a sense of history and place. It wouldn’t make my list of 50 favorites but it’s good.

I also liked “Isn’t it pretty to think so, by Ernest Hemingway, from The Sun Also Rises. But my favorite on this list was: “Let the Wild Rumpus Start,” By Maurice Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are. This was Josh’s favorite book when he was a kid and I loved, loved, loved reading it to him. This one would certainly make my list.

So what would be some of my other personal favorites? Well, many of them would come from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, which is my favorite book of all time. Here are a few:

“Figures dark beneath their loads pass down the far bank of the river, rendered immortal by the streak of sunset upon their shoulders.” 

“We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.” 

“Left alone, I am overtaken by the northern void—no wind, no cloud, no track, no bird, only the crystal crescents between peaks, the ringing monuments of rock that, freed from the talons of ice and snow, thrust an implacable being into the blue.”

“In the gaunt, brown face in the mirror—unseen since late September—the blue eyes in a monkish skull seem eerily clear, but this is the face of a man I do not know.” 

“At dusk, white egrets flapped across the sunken clouds, now black with rain; on earth, the dark had come.”

“In the early light, the rock shadows on the snow are sharp; in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe.”

“The mountains have no ‘meaning,’ they are meaning; the mountains are.”

“My foot slips on a narrow ledge; in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.”

“In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for nearly an hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came and went on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying…”


18 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

A beautiful sentence is surprisingly subjective in many cases.

R.T. said...

Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, George Orwell, and Flannery O'Connor were each masters of the sentence. (And, in my shameless self-promotional way, I admit that I like the foregoing sentence; it says so much in a few simple words, forcing the reader to think more about each of the names and words, especially "each masters of the sentence." This is what good sentences accomplish: complexity and provocation within the simplicity of a fourth-grade vocabulary.)

Cloudia said...

It is interesting how our neural wiring and temperament cause us to resonate with some lines and not others. Research avenue, Charles?





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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Greedy monkeys full of dread - I like that one.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks for the link and for the Matthiessen lines. “Figures dark beneath their loads…” is particularly good.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, so it would appear.

R. T., an extremely important part of any beautiful sentence to me is the rhythm and poetry of it.

Cloudia, it is a curious phenomenon.

Alex, and so true.

Elgin, there are many other great lines in his book. Thanks for dropping by.

sage said...

And then I remember someone in a writing class tell us that if a sentence is so perfect that it sticks out, get rid of it! Although I do like a strong first sentence in anything I read, whether a paragraph or novel.

cs harris said...

Interesting, Charles; I haven't read Matthiessen. I find so many "great lines" either banal or pretentious and a sign that an author is trying way too hard.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sage, I've heard that too. Kill your darlings. I do believe there needs to be consistency in a written piece but beautiful language is its own reward.

Candy, often times I agree. For me, it's usually the more descriptive images that make me see a scene very powerfully that I love.

R.T. said...

Slightly off subject, consider this tribute to a craftsman of uncomplicated sentences:
http://bakerstreetandbeyond.blogspot.com/

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I wonder if in the case of non-English writers, the lines aren't lost in the translation. I liked some of the other sentences.

oscar case said...

Sme of your selections sound to me like they were written by Cormac McCarthy, who puts many fine word pictures in his sentences.

Travis Cody said...

One of my favorite sentences...

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” From The Lord of the Rings

Charles Gramlich said...

R.T., I'll check it out.

Prashant, I suspect they often are.

Oscar, He's going to be my next selection. I like his stuff a lot

Travis Cody, excellent

X. Dell said...

Call me cynical, but I'm betting that 30 of the most beautiful sentences composed in English are currently sitting in a slush pile on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Riot Kitty said...

I have to agree with you, both on the cliches (I could never stand reading Garcia Marquez - I wanted to fall asleep, trying him in both in English and Spanish), and the good ones! I still love Where the Wild Things Are.

Charles Gramlich said...

X. Dell, I would not be surprised actually.

Riot Kitty, I bought a copy of where the Wild things are for myself a few years back. Josh has his copy of course

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I like your list much better. The samples of ones you didn't like are passive mush.