The Best Sentence I Read In The Last 12 Months

McCarthy

On my laptop I have a Word Document titled: “Great Passages From Books”.

I use this file to type out any piece of prose that stands out, whether for its aesthetic beauty or poignancy, for its emotional resonance or economy of phrase.

Sometimes it’s a piece of advice I want to remember, other times it’s a paragraph of prose that sends my heart aching at the recognition of sublimity.

This post is about the latter.

I just took a look through my document for 2014, and the passage that easily wins the prize for ‘Best Piece Of Writing I Read In The Last 12 Months’ goes to the linguistic titan that is Cormac McCarthy.

The passage comes from his novel All The Pretty Horses. It’s split into two paragraphs. The second paragraph is the real beauty, but I’ve put them both down below, as the first paragraph provides some context.

It describes the protagonist John Grady, as he rides on his horse:

He’d ride sometimes clear to the upper end of the laguna before the horse would even stop trembling and he spoke constantly to it in Spanish in phrases almost biblical repeating again and again the strictures of a yet untabled law. Soy comandante de las yeguas, he would say, yo y yo sólo. Sin la caridad de estas manos no tengas nada. Ni comida ni agua ni hijos. Soy yo que traigo las yeguas de las montañas, las yeguas jóvenes, las yeguas salvajes y ardientes.

While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who’s will and the blood convolutions of who’s will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations and of who’s will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned.” 

Try reading the second section out loud.

Notice how it’s all contained in one single sublime sentence. As you read it you feel every pump of the horses legs, the undulating up-and-down motion as the creature bolts along, the physical, gasping exhaustion of the gallop. The sentence is lyrical prose poetry, dripping in visceral imagery, rhythmically perfect.

Read it again.

It’s like a sweet, delicious gulp of wine you can come back to and find just as rich every time.

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3 comments

  1. Kathryn · February 9, 2015

    It would be almost unbelievable a writer could pack so much into a single sentence if I hadn’t just read it with my own eyes. The imagery is a clear, stark picture staring off the screen, all the time infused with spiritual, life, worldly elements, the sounds and feelings making you instantly at one with the horse and rider. You are right, it has all the elements of a fine wine. Each taste revealing new facets to savour. Thank you for sharing this for us to experience. This is where some of the beauty in life is really to be found.

    Like

  2. Arianna · February 9, 2015

    The power of words… 🙂

    Like

  3. Ezra Winter (@WinterEzra) · March 3, 2015

    Pretty much every phrasing would be a terrific name for a heavy metal band.

    Like

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