He loved, beneath all this summer transiency, to feel the earth’s spine beneath him; for such he took the hard root of the oak tree to be; or, for image followed image, it was the back of a great horse that he was riding; or the deck of a tumbling ship – it was anything indeed, so long as it was hard, for he felt the need of something which he could attach his floating heart to; the heart that tugged at his side; the heart that seemed filled with spiced and amorous gales every evening about this time when he walked out.
—Virginia Woolf, from Orlando
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
Synonym transforms the “hard root of an oak tree” into the “earth’s spine,” “the back of a great horse,” “the deck of a tumbling ship,” but each in this litany of synonyms ultimately falls short in that they could be “anything indeed” so long as they meet a “need.” Spare spondees (“earth’s spine,” “hard root,” “oak tree,” “great horse”) lend power to certain elements, surrounded by haphazard rhythms quite unlike the trot of that great horse, while also pointing to the specificity of these images, despite the insistence that none is quite right. The repetition of “beneath,” “image,” and “heart” create stark shifts in narration, as each word, after close repetition, retires to the progress of the next. Utilizing semicolons with such regularity assists in allowing for flow despite those stark breaks. One repetition doesn’t follow the trend: “hard,” whose proximity to “heart” emphasizes the assonance between them, especially as the heart is shown to be quite separate from the hardness alluded to throughout. When the heart is first explored, there is an unexpected grounding: each previous synonym was a possibility, something guessed at, as “image followed image.” The heart, though, is spoken of in absolute terms: it floats, it tugs. Shifting back once more to semblance lends to the concept of buoyancy: the heart is definitely floating—but what makes it float?
—Katherine Fallon is the author of The Toothmakers' Daughters