Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sentence of the Day

It's been another long day. The rhubarb roundup will have to wait.

But what I'll give you as a sentence. And an introduction to the sentence.

In my senior year of college, I discovered Elizabeth Bishop. And though I didn't read much poetry in general, I developed a crush on Elizabeth Bishop almost immediately upon reading her sestina called "Sestina" (She has a second published sestina called "A Miracle for Breakfast" but I don't like that one quite as much.) I wrote about my infatuation with Bishop in a short essay in the Christian Science Monitor a couple of years ago.

I read her Collected Prose the summer after I graduated, and I read the longest essay in the book--called "Efforts of Affection: A Memoir of Marianne Moore"--while visiting my friend Mo's fiance's parents' summer house, a camp, they called it, on top of a mountain and next to a lake in the Connecticut Berkshires. I read the essay lying in a chaise longue beside the lake, and later that day, or the next morning, Mo and I swam across the lake and back. I was almost completely content.

And even though it's been almost 21 years since I first read the essay, and I've forgotten many of the details, there's one sentence I still remember with clarity. It's in a paragraph a few pages from the end, about Marianne Moore's "originality and freshness" of diction and her "polysyllabic virtuosity." And here's what I've remembered over all these years (with the sentence preceding it, so it makes sense).

"A friend has told me of attending a party for writers and artists at which she introduced a painter to Marianne by saying, 'Miss Moore has the most interesting vocabulary of anyone I know.' Marianne showed signs of pleasure at this, and within a minute, offhandedly but accurately used in a sentence a word I no longer remember that means an addiction, in animals, to licking the luminous numbers off the dials of clocks and watches."

After all of these years, I am still amazed that such a word exists. I'm not sure I even need to know what it is. It's enough that Marianne Moore knew what it was and that Elizabeth Bishop thought to tell us about it.

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