Sentences

Certain writers are associated with long and difficult sentences. The Milton of Paradise Lost, for example. In the early twentieth century Henry James achieved a new level of complexity and obscurity in his late novels, and when I was younger I read The Wings Of The Dove and The Golden Bowl, with amazement and intermittent enjoyment. A radio abridgement of The Golden Bowl worked better for me, partly because it was read with so much liveliness of expression. A few years ago I started to read James’ final novel, The Ambassadors, but it defeated me. To be honest I found it immensely trying, the endless periphrasis, the qualifications of qualifications, and the almost imperceptible progress of the plot. The long sentences of Proust and Joyce are a different matter for me, and they are two of my favourite twentieth century writers. A long sentence does promise an intellectual energy, which holds together a complex unity of thought, feeling and circumstance. (Sadly, they don’t always deliver). When I was translating Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, one of the biggest challenges was to render Sonnet II,7 into idiomatic English, since it is a single intricate, baroque sentence. Here follows my effort.

Flowers, kin in the end to hands which are your guide,
(to the hands of girls from now and from the past),
you who have lain on garden tables, often from edge
to edge, wilting and gently hurting,

waiting for water, so that death, already 
within you, might be postponed - , and now
taken up again between streaming fingertips
of touching hands, which, more than you might have guessed,

are able to restore your better health,
provided you are given time to revive in a vase,
slowly becoming cooler: and the girl's warmth leaving you

like a confession, like a dull discolouring sin
committed when you were picked, yet linking
you back, to these your friends who also bloom.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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