A Tad More About the Sentence

I am planning a posting on a “Quartet of Quandaries,” a succesor to, obviously, “A Couple of Conundrums,”  which got some useful, interesting–though no passionate–responses.  Before I get into that, however, a couple of advance notes:

(1) To write really powerfully, I believe the composer has to be passionate in his uses of language:  about his subject matter, about the direction or the understanding he wants his reader(s) to take as a consequence of what he or she has written.

 I don’t know how many of you read Meredith Mitchell’s witness,  titled “Jesus understands all our struggles,” in the “Worship & Praise” section of this week’s “Sandspur,” but it was/is a most powerful testimony of this lady’s faith.  Note the “hook” at the beginning:  “They smell.”  Note the variety of sentence lengths, the strong pacing.  Note the concrete language.  I’ve never read better in John Bunyan or any other Christian apologist. (The penultimate paragraph is simple, terrifically strong with emotion, overpowering as a testament to Ms. Mitchell’s faith.)

(2) George Crumpler is reading Joseph Mitchell’s (likely no relation to Meredith) first book, a collection of stories written for three newspapers in the nine years from Mitchell’s arrival in Manhattan in late 1929 to his moving to “The New Yorker” in 1938.  Read well the essay that introduces these stories. It is also titled “My Ears Are Bent.”  Mitchell’s passion for life, for writing down the stories he was told by remarkable men, a couple of women, and one prepubescent child,  are, because of that passion and that empathy, likely to be immortal,  much as with the writing of his idol, his inspiration,  James Joyce. 

Here is a description of the Hudson River near the beginning of  one of Joseph Mitchell’s later stories,  “The Rivermen,”  from “The Bottom of the Harbor,” a collection of his greatest stories:   “[The river] is exciting to me on weekdays, when it is crowded with ocean craft, harbor craft, and river craft,  but it is the river itself that draws me, and not the shipping, and I guess I like it best on Sundays,  when there are lulls that sometimes last as long as half an hour, during which, all the way from the Battery to the George Washington Bridge, nothing moves upon it, not even a ferry, not even a tug, and it becomes as hushed and dark and secret and remote and unreal as a river in a dream.” Mitchell’s sentence here moves in synchronization with the river itself,  its eleven commas linking phrases in the same rhythm as the river moves:  slowly, but relentlessly, apparently aimlessly, but purposefully:  a double metaphor for both the ceaseless passing of time and the eternal constancy in its never-ceasing motion.  In short,  Wowsers!



16 Responses to “A Tad More About the Sentence”

  1. Forest Crump Says:

    Thank you, for loaning me the book, I really enjoyed reading it, what follows is a blog posting of mine on a site on the other side of the cyber universe.

    Joseph Mitchell, a fascinating author, who just abruptly quit writing in 1964 but until his death in 1996 he regularly, went to his office at the New Yorker. If you are not familiar with his work, I suggest googling him and reading the search return that is titled, New York NYC Life-The Old Man and the Seafood. Currently I am reading My Ears Are Bent by Mitchell, a collection of interviews and articles he wrote during the 1930’s. The book is on loan to me from my former English professor, Raymond J. Rundus who has written, Joseph Mitchell: A Reader’s and Writer’s Guide, which I can’t wait to read.

    “The least interesting people to interview for an afternoon newspaper are the ones who probably should be the most interesting, industrial leaders, automobile manufacturers, Wall Street financiers, ol and steel czars, people like that. They either chew your ears off with nonsense about how they are self-made (“When I landed in this country all I had was seventeen cents and a poppyseed roll and now I am chairman of the board”) or they sit around and look gloomy. After painfully interviewing one of those gentlemen you go down in the elevator and walk into the street and see the pretty girls, the pretty working girls, with their jolly breasts bouncing about under their dresses and your are relieved; you feel as if you had escaped from a tomb in which the worms were just beginning their work; you feel that it would be better to cheat, lie, steal, stick up drugstores or stretch out dead drunk in the gutter than to end up like one of those industrial leaders with a face that looks like a bowl of cold oatmeal. Next down the list are society women. I rank them with the jimsonweed and the vermiform appendix; I cannot see any reason for their existence.”

    Mitchell was more interested in people who had character, substance, individualized personalities rather than the dull, whatever I need to be personality, members of exclusivity clubs who all dress and talk alike, their clothes are over priced and they talk about nothing all day. Mitchell is attracted to and appreciative of people who go about being true to themselves at all cost and most of all, his characters displayed genuine concern for their fellow men. They are not about putting on airs and pretence.

    Mitchell wrote about the more colorful people of New York City like “Miss Mazie” whose real name is Mazie Gordon…”a blond with a heart of gold. Her clothing is flamboyant, and she uses cosmetics with abandon. Mazie is Jewish, but she wants to be a nun. She admires nuns. ‘The only difference between me and a nun is that I smoke, and drink a little booze, and talk rough. Except for things like that, I am a nun.’ ”

    She owned and ran the ticket boot at the Venice Theatre at 209 Park Row. She befriended all the drunks and bums around the Bowery. Mitchell recounts how they love to tell the story of how Mazie set the director of the Bowery mission straight one night for chiding her on her rough language.

    “What makes you so damned cut up about my cherce of words?” said Mazie. “How I talk is none of your pot-bellied business.”

    War had just broken out between Italy and Ethiopia and Mitchell was assigned to find out from veterans what their thoughts on the war were, so he went to the veteran’s hospital to find people to interview. He asked one gentleman who suffered lung damage from breathing, probably mustard gas, in France, who was playing checkers with a one legged Italian-American man, while a blind Negro sat on the bed next to them, “Have you been reading about the war?” (Mitchell asked)
    “No,” he said.
    “You must have read something about it.”
    “I don’t have no interest in it,” the man said. “So far as I’m concerned they can blow Europe to hell. I feel sorry for those poor Italian dopes and those dopes in Ethiopia getting their guts shot out and their head blown off so a bunch of rich guys can make more money. Poor dopes.”

    If you take a close look at history, you will see that all the wars are about the MONY, not money as in currency, although that is part of it, but it is about control of resources, control of the factors of production, land, labor, capitol and technology. The form of government, irrelevant, the religion, irrelevant, good dictator, bad dictator, irrelevant, you cut us out of a billion dollar business—relevant, relevant, very relevant.

    Those technologically inferior Indians had to go, they had a primitive notion that man should live in harmony with nature and would have been an impediment to progress, you can’t manifest your destiny from sea to sea with a crowd of Indians in the way. Egomania got Napoleon, Hitler got too greedy and nobody but nobody gives a crap about the needy—excepting a few saints like Miss Mazie and even Reverend Divine, in his own way, or Sally Rand dancing with her fans, these are people that give back, they delight in bringing joy to others lives, they actually care about other people.

    He interviewed a habitual petty thief and pickpocket the guy had over fifty arrests.

    “The pickpocket is regarded as the lowest type of criminal, “ he was told. “Do you have any pride in your work?”
    “Not particularly,” he said, “I would rather be a bookmaker. I like gambling better. I am more of a gambler than a pickpocket. I know I am considered the lowest type of crook, but that don’t mean anything. I mean, the cops are always calling me a cockroach and squawking about how I steal a poor man’s pay. Hell, I’m not the only one that steals the poor man’s pay. Everybody steals the poor man’s pay. There are plenty of bank presidents no better than I am.”

    Damn, this statement is as applicable today as it was in the 1930’s, it is the same old song and dance, it is the cultural waltz for those in control and the jitterbug for the rest of us. Mitchell is invited to the grand ball and he fits in with the people, he has the manners, grace and charm, he can speak their language but he had much rather be in the Speakeasy with a raucous, rowdy, and a bit raunchy crowd—they are more real and definitely a lot more fun.

  2. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Very informative!

  3. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Thanks for the info!

  4. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Sentences are great!

  5. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Go Mr. Rundus!!

  6. Tammy Stephens Says:

    When are you posting Quartet of Quandaries? A little education never hurts.

  7. Tammy Stephens Says:

    What a brilliant man, we can learn SO much from him!

  8. Xfriend Says:


    There are some that say Xfriend has just a little passion for Hope Mills and Lake #1 (and Lake#2 for that matter). Having lived in Cumberland County since 1970 and Hope Mills since 1991, I have come to love this community and its citizens. I am proud to call this place home. I am proud to be a graduate of Pine Forest SH and Methodist College (now a University).

    Thanks for all that you do. Obviously, I enjoy writing of a different method but it is all good in challenging the mind. Keep up the good work Professor!


  9. Xfriend Says:


    I hope you and Frank are enjoying a game of golf on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.

  10. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Sorry, didn’t mean to talk that much up there. Get on a roll and can’t stop.

  11. Xfriend Says:

    Well Hey Tammy!

    We both need to get outside and enjoy this great weather today.

    Ray is a blast, see you guys at breakfast sometime soon.

  12. Xfriend Says:

    Ray is on the Hot Topics again – Look out!

  13. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Xfriend, I agree. Chat with ya later. Soon it will be time for church. Need that fresh air.AHHH

    Ray is on the Hot Topics again – Look out!

    Oh no, we’re in for it now! LOL! He’s MIA too!

  14. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Folks, as Forest Grump has countered with life of today has not changed as far as the hearts of a lot of people toward other people. We are just living, if I may say so, in a different period with the speed of our own existance going no where fast, only to look back and say what happen. Enbrace what’s real and run from what isn’t but take time to know the difference.

  15. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Thanks for these varied and all-too-generous comments. Keep in mind here that sometimes we are best served by negative reactions to our ideas or our actions. The arc of history, suggested Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) begins (as with Socrates/Plato) with the ultimate reality of an “IDEA.”

    Hegel proposes a logical development from this theory of “transcendentalism.” And it is the form of a three-pronged process, or triad: The original idea is the “thesis.” The reactions and qualifications that impact the thesis constitute an “antithesis.” In time these coalesce into a “synthesis,” which becomes a new “thesis.” And so on throughout human history.

    Hegel’s ideas were later to have a considerable impact upon Karl Marx’s “Dialectal Materialism” and Soren Kierkegaard’s and Jean Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism.” I like what William Blake (1757-1827), an exact contemporary of Hegel’s, said: (1) “Opposition is true friendship” and (2) “Without contraries is no progression.”

    Keep your chins up (you have at least one, right?) along with the enthusiasm you’ve exhibited, without which, so said America’s greatest pragmatic philosopher, nothing great can ever be achieved.


  16. Dabert Says:

    Every time i come here I am not dissapointed, nice post

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