August 12, 2017

"We cross our bridges as we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and the presumption that once our eyes watered."

I'm reading "51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature" (Buzzfeed).


rcocean said...

"So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight."

tim maguire said...

I suspect they just posted the first 50 responses they got. Most of the lines are insignifcant, even hokey or worse. Memorable to the submitter for some personal reason. 50 inside jokes.

My contribution: Happy families are all alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Anna Karenina.

mockturtle said...

I liked this line so much I may have to read his work:

45. "I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night."

—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

n.n said...

Ah, progress. Monotonic change. There is always something to show for it.

Angel-Dyne said...

That's an awful sentence.

Most of the lines chosen were bad to mediocre. The people at Buzzfeed have awful taste.

Paco Wové said...

Angel-D beat me to it. "Buzzfeed" and "literature" do not belong in the same sentance.

Ken B said...

Some of those really suck. 23, 30. Lots more.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. -- Hemingway

Feste said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave in Tucson said...

Somebody needs an editor

> We cross our bridges when we come to them

As opposed to some other way? This whole clause is redundant.

Ken B said...

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

It is ridiculously easy to beat hell out of that list. I like rcocean's choice, especially as it's an elegant jab at our host and her gatsby hate-a-thon of days of yore.

Ralph L said...

She was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cook go, she went. --Saki

mockturtle said...

Yes, there are thousands of much better examples of great sentences than those listed. Most of them are lame--or worse. I wouldn't have chosen that particular line from Solzhentsyn. He wrote some really great ones, some of which I filed away. And, of course, Shakespeare. Thousands from his works alone.

Feste said...

I just posted this in another thread, responding to Henry @ 8/12/17, 3:51, who wrote:

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!

From King Lear.

And (I responded) from the same.

I feel these are among the most tender lines anywhere.

Albany - “How have you known the miseries of your father?”

Edgar - “By nursing them, my lord.”

That final, single sentence.

The entire context of King Lear. makes that single sentence, for me, unbearably beautiful.

Ken B said...

Mock: "There were three thousand six hundred and fifty three such days in Ivan Denisovitch's sentence. The three extra days were for leap years." That final sentence is a stunner!

rcocean said...

“Caddy got the box and set it on the floor and opened it. It was full of stars. When I was still, they were still. When I moved, they glinted and sparkled. I hushed.”

rcocean said...

This isn't beautiful But I always liked it:

“All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

David Baker said...

A favorite: When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him" - Johnathan Swift; Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (essay)

Another: "A glooming peace this morning with it brings, the sun for sorrow will not show his head... For never was a story of more woe,,, than this of Juliet and her Romeo" - Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

And another:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door." - Emma Lazarus

Joe said...

The most beautiful line in literature:

"Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat..."

Ken B said...


There I was at at the wailing wall, like an idiot, with my harpoon.

tcrosse said...

The check is in the mail.

rcocean said...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door." - Emma Lazarus'

LOL! Yes, I can smell the sarcasm from here. What about:

Ma, Ma,
Where's my Pa?
Gone to the White House,
Ha, Ha, Ha.

rcocean said...

"There I was at at the wailing wall, like an idiot, with my harpoon."

“People always ask me, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" Well, I don't have an alibi.”

David said...

Most of these read flat and some read trite. They really aren't that bad. A sentence in a book or a poem is great if it distills some emotion or truth that have been building in other sentences before, or even after. "Call me Ishmael" isn't much of a sentence in itself. It's greatness as the opening of a great classic book becomes evident only as the tale unfolds. Or take "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." A fine sentence, but it becomes great only because it can carry the emotional weight of the whole portrait of Gatsby. Without that it's just a moderately clever sentence.

David Baker said...

It's hard to imagine the impact Lazarus's poem had on the world's huddled masses. And from tempest-tost ghettos and darkly slums, by boat and raft and rusted hull, to finally reach the Golden Door.

Ralph L said...

Two sentences from Faulkner's Shall Not Perish:

I knew them too: the men and women still powerful seventy-five years and twice that and twice that again afterward, still powerful and still dangerous and still coming, North and South and East and West, until the name of what they did and what they died for became just one single word, louder than any thunder. It was America, and it covered all the western earth.

Fabi said...

"With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us"

Howard said...

Got through top 10...bleeeeech. Pop philosophy drivel tarted up to make the idiot reader think it's profound.

Angel-Dyne said...

David Baker: It's hard to imagine the impact Lazarus's poem had on the world's huddled masses.

Did it really have much to do with motivating would-be immigrants? It's likely most of 'em never heard of it before they got here, and that it's had far more impact as nostalgia-schmaltz for their descendants.

As a poem, it's lousy.

rcocean said...

"David Baker: It's hard to imagine the impact Lazarus's poem had on the world's huddled masses."

Its actually easy to imagine. The impact was more or less zero. Most of the immigrants to the USA didn't speak English and many couldn't read or write. The whole idea that Lazarus' poem had any impact on the Germans/Italian/Poles, etc. is rather silly. And I don't think the Irish or the Brits thought of themselves as "huddled masses".

I'm sure the poem played well in NYC, which is why it got tacked onto the Statue in 1905.

And its terrible poetry.

rcocean said...

“To die, to sleep -
To sleep, perchance to dream - aye, there's the rub,
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come...”

Ralph L said...

Speaking of Hamlet:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

All one sentence. Well used in the musical Hair.

Laslo Spatula said...

"He Offers Me a Flat Top Beer with a Church Key and We Smoke A Few of His Chesterfields."

From Betamax3000's Cherry Blossoms, Pigeons. Bus Exhaust.

Even a rhhardin comment there.

I am Laslo.

Snark said...

The last and only other time I had that Tom Stoppard sentence quoted at me was by someone who utterly broke my heart. I spend a lot of time here and other places trying to fill my head and my time to hold it all in the ironic that I see it here.

Laslo Spatula said...

I tell her dark secrets of my soul when she is drunk, knowing that in the morning she will not remember.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

She was beautiful once, and in Heaven she will no doubt be beautiful again.

I am Laslo.

Lewis Wetzel said...

A lot of the sentences are unremarkable. If you can't explain why a sentence is beautiful, without referencing how it makes you feel, you are talking about a subjective experience of the sentence, not the sentence itself.
The most beautiful sentences are probably poem fragments, or prose with a poem hidden in them.

Laslo Spatula said...

"If you can't explain why a sentence is beautiful, without referencing how it makes you feel, you are talking about a subjective experience of the sentence, not the sentence itself."

Extrapolate to Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

I am Laslo.

Dave in Tucson said...

If we're including poetry, the lyrics to Eno and Cale's Spinning Away are wonderfully evocative:

Up on a hill, as the day dissolves
With my pencil turning moments into line
High above in the violet sky
A silent silver plane - it draws a golden chain
One by one, all the stars appear
As the great winds of the planet spiral in

Laslo Spatula said...

Mickey Spillane:

"Her head nestled against my shoulder and she moved my hand up her body until I knew there was no marvel of engineering connected to the bra because there was no bra."

"Two drunks with a nickel between them were arguing over what to play on the juke box until a tomato in a dress that was too tight a year ago pushed the key that started off something noisy and hot."

"All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears."

"I sat there as if I were paralyzed; for a second totally immobilized, a suddenly frozen mind and body that had solidified into one great silent scream at the mention of a name I had long ago consigned to a grave somewhere."

"There are city sounds too, but these you don't hear because at the end of the street is the woman you've been waiting for for seven long years and each muffled tread of your footsteps takes you closer and closer and the sound of them marks off seconds and days and months of waiting."

"Between the puffballs of blue-black flesh that used to be eyelids, the dull gleam of shock-deadened pupils watched Dilwick uncomprehendingly."

"But there's nothing casual about a little kid who liked to play in junk and found himself stumbling over the mutilated body of what had been a redheaded woman."

"If I could have reached my rod I would have blown his guts out."

THOSE are sentences.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

From Mickey Spillane's "1984":

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. But all of this means nothing to the control of the man brandishing his rod at you in a dark wet alley."

"“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” Yeah, the dame said that. She obviously had dark memories as long as her shapely gams."

"The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me," the mob boss said, ice cubes clinking in his glass of some fancy Scotch favored by the swells."

“It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words, like watching a women undress in a seedy hotel room, her vanity laid aside like the stockings she dropped on the bed."

"“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four, but that freedom only comes with six bullets in the chamber, two plus two plus two."

"“Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn't matter, not when your brains are about to be splattered against the brick wall of the back of a Chinese restaurant."

"The cops studiously studied the jellied remains of a face on the asphalt that had been stamped by a boot, seemingly forever."

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

I bet Meade read Mickey Spillane when he was young.

I am Laslo.

David Baker said...

Sometimes, this place is like watching people eat off the floor. Not even Potato Eaters, but floor dwellers down on their hands and knees. And the coarseness of their mocking words, who wouldn't know a poem if it jumped up and bit them, damning man to a single language, nay, a single word; Hooters.

One last chance for redemption, O' you the faithless. For here be the greatest opening lines ever written - by me:

A Wee Voyage

An old letter, posted from a little town in Ireland:

“To answer, your great-grandfather left no word of his voyage. It is the date and name our records show, Bartholomew, baptized Joseph. We have enclosed a diary entry recently read, translated from the Gaelic, kept by the lady Catherine Mary Cavanaugh. This will be in thanking you for your gift.”

The entry spoke of his departure, of a love and oath to enter the Golden Door. Mention of the sterling needed for passage, that all the forces of nature would not keep them apart. But it would to be the force of a life quickly spent, that in their fragment of time they would not embrace again.


Now, get off the floor you ragged peasants, leave the vermin and fleas and crumbs to the devil.

Amadeus 48 said...

So we beat on, boats against the current--borne back ceaselessly into the past.

D'anelo Barksdale explains it to you in The Wire.

William said...

I won't quote them because I'd probably get the quote wrong and subvert my meaning, but the writers whose sentences have remained lodged in my brain are Fitzgerald, Salinger and Hemingway. The Great Gatsby, in particular, has lots of memorable sentences......I don't think poets should be eligible. They're paid to produce great lines........Laslo's mind meld of Orwell and Mickey Spillane is evocative and their darkness illuminates each other.

D said...

Goodnight moon.

dustbunny said...

Lines from The Great Gatsby and Shakespeare should dominate the list along with many from the most recent Nobel Laureate.
'The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face"

Roughcoat said...

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me."

Roughcoat said...

I'm Spartacus.

Fernandinande said...

As if.

"We cross our bridges ..."

51 of the Clumsiest Sentences Ever in a Click-bait Listicle.

Henry said...

sometimes his gifts were old beat-up things but they had the charm of usefulness and sadness of his giving.

Jack Kerouac - The Dharma Bums

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Why would anyone who claims to know and use words think burning bridges after crossing them is progress? Retreat definitely.

mockturtle said...

Laslo quotes: "If you can't explain why a sentence is beautiful, without referencing how it makes you feel, you are talking about a subjective experience of the sentence, not the sentence itself."

Yes. My pick from the 51--#45--has no resonance in my soul, as forgiveness has never been a problem for me. But the sentence itself is beautiful.

Ken B said...

Laslo, Meade wasn't even alive when Spillane was young.

Georgia Lawyer said...

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Leora said...

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche