Flatboats and rafts continued to float downstream, but with unsignalling passengers submissive and huddled, mere bundles of sticks; bets were laid on shore as to whether they were alive or dead, but it was impossible to prove it either way.
– Eudora Welty, from “First Love”
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
There are no powerful images in this sentence, no great leaps of metaphor, no part of the sentence calls more attention to itself than another, yet it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Like the Scales of Justice, the phrases are balanced on either side of the semicolon, twinned by near-matching structures and coordinating conjunctions. Welty notes the physicality of the people out on the boats, but more importantly, she captures the dark humor of the sentiment that ripples through the crowd on shore. The sentence begins by noting the exterior physicality of one group, but deftly swoops into the interiority of the other, which is ultimately more interesting. Now we know the character of the sardonic Trace and its people: quiet black humor. This slide from exteriority to interiority is easily done for an individual character, but a challenge to convey convincingly for a group. Welty accomplishes this by making use of the (increasingly extinct) omniscient mode. Not many would brave this motion.
—Matthew Neill Null is the author of Honey from The Lion