The buoys would toll mournfully for Lawrence, and while the grace of the light would make it an exertion not to throw out your arms and swear exultantly, Lawrence’s eyes would trace the black sea as it fell astern; he would think of the bottom, dark and strange, where full fathom five our father lies.
—John Cheever, from “Goodbye, My Brother”
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
—Stephanie Grant, Guest Editor
To look at this sentence without the context of the greater story is a bit like gazing at the glimmering surface of some sunstruck sea without considering how it teems beneath, with things darting and scuttling. This resembles the way Cheever’s unabashed use of allusions (John Donne by way of Hemingway) flash brilliantly and blind us to the subtler workings of the sentence’s construction: Consider, say, the way those final fricatives resemble the inspiring, airy sensation of the sea’s surface (the narrator’s myopic focus) while the three mournful tolls of the repeated iambics (“it fell astern” … “bottom, dark and strange” … “our father lies”) attune our ears to the sorrows beneath the surf, to the finality of the brother’s departure, to the unfathomable depth of this estrangement.
—Bruce Machart is the author of Men in the Making and The Wake of Forgiveness