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.