The Loveliest Sentence of All

Ben and I are reading E.B. White’s Stuart Little for a second time, and enjoying it very much. I’m never quite sure how much Ben understands, or how long his attention lasts, but he usually wants to keep reading when I’ve closed the book and tucked him into bed, and he occasionally stops me to ask what “mercy” or “offhanded” or “descended” means, so I suppose he’s getting something.

Anyway, last night we read Chapter XIII, “Ames’ Crossing,” which begins
with this loveliest of all sentences, full of sophisticated syntactical devices such as polysyndeton and anaphora and anadiplosis, yet somehow remaining simple and fluid and utterly beautiful:

In the loveliest town of all, where the houses were white and high and the elms trees were green and higher than the houses, where the front yards were wide and pleasant and the back yards were bushy and worth finding out about, where the streets sloped down to the stream and the stream flowed quietly under the bridge, where the lawns ended in orchards and the orchards ended in fields and the fields ended in pastures and the pastures climbed the hill and disappeared over the top toward the wonderful wide sky, in this loveliest of all towns Stuart stopped to get a drink of sarsaparilla.

Isn’t that delightful? There is no doubt in my mind that I am enjoying the book much more than Ben is.

If you’re interested at all in what those rhetorical devices are, or how they can be used, Silva Rhetoricae is well worth a visit.

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4 Responses to The Loveliest Sentence of All

  1. Aunt Ginny says:

    Holy Moly! It IS a great sentence, but I had no idea why! Thanks!

  2. Dad says:

    That is, I agree, a delightful – maybe even an enchanting – sentence, but I must confess to a total inability to recognize as such any of the syntactical devices you mentioned – nor any others, for that matter. Even so, I hope you’ll not terminate my inclusion in your e-mail distribution list for this cause.
    Ben is so lucky….

  3. bruce glesby says:

    I, too, read Stuart Little a second time with my son when he was about 5 or 6, and I became so enamored with this sentence’s poetic simplicity that I memorized it. I hope to visit Ames some day.

  4. Andrew Sturt says:

    Thank you for posting this. I frequently Google it to find your post again so that I can share this wonderful sentence with others. It is, I feel, a great shame that modern writing is so fixated on short sentences. Unfortunately, most of us do not have the grammatical prowess to successfully pull off a 100 word sentence; but when we do find a writer who skillfully moves beyond the staccato of much contemporary work, what a joy it is!

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