Best Sentences

Arlington, Texas – Peter Smythe © 2019

Arlington, Texas – Peter Smythe © 2019

In his new book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, Stanley Fish offers up some of the most exquisite sentences in the English language. He describes how he carries sentences around with him "as others might carry a precious gem or a fine Swiss watch." Here are five of his favorites:

Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began crying after him to return, but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! eternal life. —Paul Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her appearance for the worse. —Jonathan Swift, A Tale of the Tub

To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, or such moments gone by, what is real in our lives fines itself down. —Walter Pater, The Renaissance

And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars. —Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier

When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had commas and semi-colons to do with it what had commas to do with it what had periods to do with it what had small letters and capitals to do with writing going on which was at the time the most profound need I had in connection with writing. —Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America

Since Fish's book has come out, others have jumped in with their own favorites. Here are a few of the nominations:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. —James Joyce, The Dead

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, bar better rest that I go to than I have ever known. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. —William Faulkner

One had to forget—because one could not live with the thought that this graceful, fragile, tender young woman with those eyes, that smile, those gardens and snows in the background, had been brought in a cattle car to an extermination camp and killed by an injection of phenol into the heart, into the gentle heart one had heard beating under one's lips in the dusk of the past. —Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin

Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred; so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. —2 Samuel 13.15, RSV

The only people for me are the mad ones, the one who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!" —Jack Keourac, On the Road