Monday, January 31, 2011

Sentences that Sing

All writers love the language, and all writers love when other writers blow them away with great writing. I ran across a couple of Stanley Fish pieces recently that had several samples of great writing. The first was a column where he laid out his "favorite five sentences." Well, OK. This seems a bit much, but it is fodder for a column.* Of course such judgments are eminently challengeable. And I'm sure if you want to take the time to think about it or just start randomly looking up sentences from your favorite writers, you can easily come up with five of your own . . . which would be just as arbitrary as these are. But that's not the point. Anyway, here are Fish's five favorite sentences. He's heavy on the heavy classic stuff, you'll note.

  1. John Bunyan (from The Pilgrim's Progress, 1678): "Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began crying after him to return, but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! eternal life."
  2. Jonathan Swift (from A Tale of a Tub, 1704): "Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how  much it altered her appearance for the worse." 
  3. Walter Pater (from The Renaissance, 1873): "To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our lives fines itself down." 
  4. Ford Madox Ford (from The Good Soldier, 1915): "And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars." 
  5. Gertrude Stein (from Lectures in America, 1935): "When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had commas and semi-colons to do with it what had commas to do with it what had periods to do with it what had small letters and capitals to do with writing going on which was at the time the most profound need I had in connection with writing."
Part of the game here is to figure out why he chose these sentences. So go figure, and then if you want to find out why, check out the full article.

This column prompted a flood of favorite sentences from readers. I'll post the three best (according to Fish) in another post . . . and I might even try to give you a few of my own--betcha can't wait for that, eh?

*Which anyone who blogs daily will understand is a very good thing. :)
Post a Comment