Beautiful Prose

Like many English majors, I keep a list of my favorite sentences (people do that, right?). It’s hard to explain why certain writing styles appeal to me, or turn other readers off, but it’s the shared love for writing that keeps us all coming back, I think. I just wanted to share some of my favorite sentences with you, and hear some of your own!

This one comes from W.H.D. Rouse’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. I like Rouse’s for its lack of affectation: other translations structure Homer’s epic in stanzas and rhymes that take away from the work’s relatively conversational tone. The “poetry” that emerges naturally from the text is beautiful as is.

Here, the narrator finds Odysseus languishing on Calypso’s island, afraid he will never again reach Ithaca:

The tears were never dry in his eyes; life with its sweetness was slowly trickling away (65).

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a sentence that gave me such a strong sense of futility. Despite the heroic circumstances that separate us from the protagonist, I feel that here and throughout the epic, we can relate with him because of the familiarity of the translation’s tone. Many of us have felt the overwhelming force of circumstance on our lives, the influence events have on the way we carry on, and unlucky for us, we usually don’t have a divine benefactor to whisk us away. I’d like to chalk all this up to Rouse keeping close to Homer’s original voice, but what translator doesn’t claim to do that?

My second sentence comes from one of my favorite books: South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. Murakami’s been translated into several languages, and though his work is clearly set in Japan, each readership claims that the work is virtually indistinguishable from the feel of their own lives. I think that’s noteworthy in itself. I found his style to be very “American”: sparse minimalism, nearly like Carver, but with the dreaminess and perspective of something else completely.

South of the Border is more grounded than some of his more fantastic works. Here, protagonist Hajime reminisces about Shimamoto: a childhood friend, a fellow only-child, and the love of his life. At this point in the story, they are eleven. Both are listening to a Nat King Cole record, closing their eyes:

When I opened my eyes, Shimamoto was still moving her fingers along her skirt. Somewhere deep inside my body I felt an exquisitely sweet ache (15).

I feel that Murakami accomplishes a rare feat here. Books don’t often reproduce (convincingly, anyway) the innocence of childhood. It usually comes off as stilted, overly thought-out. But here, from the way Shimamoto idles with her skirt, to the vague precursor to love Hajime experiences, the author conveys the inexperience of childhood, and the mix of joy and fear that comes along with it. In my opinion, Hajime feels, of course, desire, but also anguish, because he doesn’t know how to act on his impulses, and because of the sense that he will never see Shimamoto again.

I could go on, but I’d rather hear some of your favorite sentences, and why you love them!

– David Antony Pulido

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