Friday, May 4, 2018

50 of the Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature

If you're a reader who enjoys language then you've no doubt had the experience of reading a sentence that so connects with or stimulates something in you that you must pause and read it again, and sometimes yet again. There's nothing quite like a good sentence.

My interest in Andre Gide years ago was chiefly due to the beauty of language in some of his prose. Since he wrote in French, some credit must no doubt be given to the translators. But his mind and soul shone through.

This past weekend, while reading the prologue to David Pichaske's Here I Stand, there were several beautiful sentences that greeted me. Perhaps we'd discover more beauty in literature if we weren't in so much of a hurry all the time, for I noticed that I was reading the piece in a more leisurely fashion than I'm sometimes accustomed to. A good meal is designed to be savored, not scarfed.

Here are a pair of passages that I enjoyed from the Pichaske reading:

“As we grow older, we should have a look at ourselves, see what we have become, how we became what we became, the way our story is really the story of a generation and, perhaps, the human story.”

and a little earlier...

“Perhaps when I drive the back roads of Bavaria or Minnesota, when I track the back paths of either place, I am walking the folds of a rococo drapery. Or the veins of my own aging body.”

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Thinking about sentences led me to turn back to a blogsite that I used to frequent called The Floating Library, produced by the late Ben Price under the pseudonymous guise of Sineokov, whom I'd always surmised to be an old Russian philosopher, perhaps blind for having stared too long at the sun. It must have been through our mutual appreciation of Borges that I glommed onto the site, sounding it depths, summoning its sources, snake-bit by its mystic power.

And so it is that I stumbled upon this Floating Library post titled 50 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature.

Now to imply that these 50 sentences are the most beautiful ever written is on the face of it quite preposterous. On the other hand, they did not make this claim. They state instead that these are among the most beautiful which is O.K. because it doesn't exclude the manifold hundreds of other beautiful sentences one discovers in the course of a lifetime of reading. There are so many great sentences, sentences tightly coiled with kinetic power, sentences pregnant with radical embryonic possibilities. Some so simple they pierce you like knife thrusts, others so complex they dazzle you in the manner they dance across your consciousness.

Here's an example of a simple set of three sentences that float across the ring and strike you like a series of Mohammed Ali jabs. It's the opening of another Floating Library essay by Peter Birkenhead: "Some people cut themselves, some do drugs. I try to understand physics. Cosmology, to be precise."

In the same way, I try to understand sentences. That is, what gives a sentence its power? What makes a sentence effective? Perhaps it's a mix of word selection, from the manner in which the content is wrapped, as well as the music of the language. And I suspect it comes, in part, from context.

Maybe that is what gives our lives their power, when our lives find their connection to something bigger than ourselves. Why does it take so long for us to find our places in the larger human story, or symphony, that we are part of?

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Related Links
"I am haunted by waters."
Of Time and the River
Here I Stand, Prologue
Special Topics in Mindboggling Physics
An Interview with David Pichaske

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