Outrun Change

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Long sentences that work well

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I want to look at a few samples of the writing of John D. Billings, when he told in 1887 of his experiences in the Civil War. He shared his recollections in Hard Tack and Coffee, currently $0.99 for the Kindle version. Previously mentioned his book here.

Consider the smooth flow of the following two sentences. Yes, two sentences:

Taps ended the army day for all branches of the service, and, unless an alarm broke in upon the stillness of the night, the soldiers were left to their slumbers; or, what was oftener the case, to meditations on home; the length of time in months and days they must serve before returning thither; their prospects of surviving the vicissitudes of war; of the boys who once answered roll-call with them, now camped over across the Dark River; or of plans for business, or social relations to be entered upon, if they should survive the war. All these, and a hundred other topics which furnished abundant field for air-castle-building, would chase one another through the mind of the soldier-dreamer, till his brain would grow weary, his eyes heavy, and balmy sleep would softly steal him away from a world of trouble into the realm of sweet repose and pleasant dreams.

Wow.

Let’s break apart those two sentences.

First:

Taps ended the army day for all branches of the service, and, unless an alarm broke in upon the stillness of the night,

the soldiers were left to their slumbers; or,

what was oftener the case, to meditations on home;

the length of time in months and days they must serve before returning thither;

their prospects of surviving the vicissitudes of war;

of the boys who once answered roll-call with them, now camped over across the Dark River;

or of plans for business, or social relations to be entered upon, if they should survive the war.

All the thoughts that might flood the mind of a soldier as he tried to drift off to sleep.

Second:

All these, and a hundred other topics which furnished abundant field for air-castle-building,

would chase one another through the mind of the soldier-dreamer,

till his brain would grow weary, his eyes heavy, and

balmy sleep would softly steal him away from a world of trouble

into the realm of sweet repose and pleasant dreams.

The groggy path to sleep. I can feel the soldier drifting into slumber. Wow.

Those sentences weigh in at 96 words and 54 words. They don’t feel long. I find they engage the brain and create a complex, beautiful image.

Even some of the clauses are compound.

It would take me a lot of sentences and far more words to tell such a story, assuming I could even compose the idea.

Wish I could write that well.

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2 thoughts on “Long sentences that work well

  1. That writing is what I would consider a “prose poem.” From wiki: “Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis and emotional effects.” Virginia Woolf was perhaps one of the best at doing that.

    • Hi Bruce:
      I’m listening to a tape series from Great Courses on sentence building. Why? To stretch my writing ability. Mr. Billing’s book has stretched me by its amazing writing style. Your comment stretches me further.

      Why am I blogging? To stretch my brain. The reading necessary, stretching of writing ability, and stretching of expressiveness, is an amazing, free education. Guess I need to read some Virginia Wolff, huh?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Jim

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