Floating in the Sensual
On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine – as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together – and we lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-gray smoke rose, untroubled by the wind, to the blue-green shadows of foliage, and the sweet scent of the tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us and the fumes of the sweet, golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us suspended.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
It’s so easy for me to sink into the sensuality of this long sentence: strawberries and wine and fat Turkish cigarettes and scents and trees. Waugh creates an entire world in this sentence. There’s so much energy because of the movement from landscape to characters, then a vertical spike, leaving the knoll and heading to the sky with leaves and smoke and scents.
This sentence grows primarily through conjunctions that link together four base clauses (also called independent clauses). The sentence opens with two modifying phrases, firmly placing the characters in a particular setting, replete with a sheep-cropped knoll and a clump of elms.
Then we come to the first base clause: we ate the strawberries and drank the wine.
Waugh includes a parenthetical with the use of em dashes, interrupting the flow of the sentence to invite Sebastian into the sentence.
The second base clause: we lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs. Waugh pulls us in close by modifying the “we” of this base clause, adding more information about Sebastian—Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, and the narrator, who is watching Sebastian. We are privy to the narrator’s infatuation with Sebastian.
Now a dependent clause— while the blue-gray smoke rose, untroubled by the wind, to the blue-green shadows of foliage. The clause transports the reader away from the characters and returns us to the natural world, which began the sentence. I love the balance (the pairing of two) of “blue-gray smoke,” and “blue-green shadows,” which invites alliteration and the repetition of three hard stresses, slowing the reader down to experience the world.
The third base clause: the sweet scent of the tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us. Waugh includes series, weaving in alliteration (the “s”), with “sweet scent” and “sweet summer scents,” which carries over to the fourth base clause with “sweet golden wine.”
The fourth base ends the sentence: the fumes of the sweet, golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us.
The narrator is transported, and so am I!
Try it! What do you have to gain?
One way to write a sentence like this is to start with four base clauses. For Waugh’s sentence, he would have written:
1. We ate the strawberries and drank the wine
2. We lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs
3. The sweet scent of tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us
4. The fumes of the sweet golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us suspended.
Now connect these base clauses with the conjunction “and.”
What do you want to draw more attention to? You can add modifiers, as Waugh did to linger on Sebastian and the narrator.
Can you add a subordinate clause and give the reader a sense of the landscape? Try two hyphenated adjectives to create balance and maybe a pattern of hard stresses.
Can you add series and repetition, using an adjective that is repeated three times? (sweet)
There is such music, let’s focus on the pattern of stresses. A hard stress means that a syllable in a word is spoken louder than the other syllables. When you cluster hard stresses together, the sentence slows down, and the reader lingers:
You can create patterns of stresses: DeLIcious ToGEther
BLUE-GRAY SMOKE/BLUE-GREEN SHAdows
Let me know how it goes!
What else do you see in this sentence?
In your reading wanderings, if you find a treasure of a sentence, send it my way!