Friday, June 29, 2012

Beautiful Prose

As a senior in high school, I took AP English. It lasted two semesters and promised to be a challenging course (it did not disappoint).

As I was reading from the Diamond Sutra this morning, I came across a passage of commentary that was beautifully written. Translator Edward Conze wrote,

In the present period of history we find ourselves in one of the worst possible cosmic ages, with Buddhism in full decline, and the people everywhere singularly obtuse about matters spiritual, and incredibly dimwitted when confronted with the wisdom of the sages.

I read the paragraph, paused a moment, and read it again. I admired the particular choice of diction (it was the word "cosmic" used to describe the ages that sparked my interest first). The phrase "singularly obtuse about matters spiritual"...I've yet to be able to quite articulate what it is that I love so much about the writing, but here is why I recalled AP English.

I remember one day walking down the hall with my teacher. We were discussing, I believe it was James Joyce...perhaps Flannery O'Connor. We studied both in the same time frame. He was telling me about the beauty of the prose, and I asked him what he meant. I didn't quite understand how words, the same words used by everyone who speaks English, could be beautiful in one jumble and ordinary in another. I looked at his face as he seemed to search for an adequate explanation. He expounded a bit, but left me with the notion that it was something I'd have to experience for myself.

Now I know.

Now I know what beautiful prose reads like. What it feels like falling off your tongue. What it stirs up inside you as the words take form and create images in your mind and thoughts in your soul. And it's different for everyone, I believe. Granted, I think beautiful prose should be recognized by everyone, but the particular way in which it touches a person will vary. For instance, the paragraph I quoted above may not seems quite as beautiful to another reader. For me, it was like a small gift in the morning, delicately laced with the somber and distressed meaning of its words.

Now I know. And now I want others to know. But I can't exactly explain it to you.

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