Monday, December 12, 2011

From the Pen of William Faulkner

I’ve talked about what makes a line of prose really jump out at me here. But in my ongoing search for prose perfection I figured I’d start sharing some of the passages that have smacked me between the eyes like a transcendent two-by-four of late. Here’s a sampling from Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. All emphasis is mine:

"They stand in rigid, terrific hiatus, the horse trembling and groaning. Then Jewel is on the horse’s back. He flows upward in a swooping swirl, like the lash of a whip, his body in mid-air, shaped to the horse. For another moment the horse stands sprattled, with lowered head, before it bursts into motion. They descend the hill in a series of spine-jolting jumps, Jewel high, leach-like on the withers, to the fence where the horse bunches to a scuttering halt again."

"Back-running, tunneled between the two sets of bobbing mule ears, the road vanishes beneath the wagon as though it were a ribbon, and the front axle were a spool."

"The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a crest of thunderheads. The light has turned copper, in the eye portentous, in the nose sulfurous, smelling of lightning."

"When I reach the front he is struggling with Gillespie, the one lean in underclothes, the other stark naked. They are like two figures in a Greek frieze, isolated out of all reality by the red glare."
How about you? What’s the best line you’ve come across in recent reading?


  1. Here is an incredible line from a book I haven't read yet (the book is Pulphead Essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan- I saw this line in a review by Bill Morris.)

    It is a description of a rented RV:

    “The interior smelled of spoiled vacations and amateur porn shoots wrapped in motel shower curtains and left in the sun.”

    Now that's a good line!

  2. Yes, Joel, that is indeed a terrific evocation of a moldy sort of smell that I actually know rather better than I wish... =laugh=

    Here's a rather more orotund line from Nabokov's 'Speak, Memory':

    "Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life's foolscap."

  3. Joel, I agree. That one line alone might just sell that book to some people. They should have put it on the cover.

    Fi, you NaNoWriMo nut, you. Thanks for sticking around! That is another great line. It's sometimes embarrassing for native English speakers that Russian-born Nabokov can do what he does with our language.

    When I read Lolita, I kept a running list of words I didn't understand. Sadly, sonorous is the only one I remember from that list. But I was reminded of it when I looked up "Foolscap" just now... :)