The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, July 24, 2006


by Andrew Tibbetts

I pine for gorgeous sentences. I love to read them. I long to craft them.

Here’s one from Harold Brodkey:
Death itself is soft, softly lit, vastly dark.

I could bask in its deep meaning and rich music for hours. I don’t need another word.

First the music: say the sentence out loud-Death itself is soft, softly lit, vastly dark. Can you feel the tumble of sharp consonants and soft sizzles that take you to the first comma- Death itself is soft- like brushes on a snare drum? And can you hear how the second two phrases interrupt the chaos with the inevitable- softly lit, vastly dark.- like the drummer has found his sticks and taps a steady dirge rhythm, two eighth notes leading to one quarter note, repeated? And can you hear how the central reflection- soft, softly- is mirrored in the bookend assonance- Death….dark.- and how the center of the sentence has a soft interior that pulls you in; the music of this unrivaled literary moment incarnates the meaning.

The meaning: Harold Brodkey kept a journal while he was dying of Aids. You can read it if you dare. It’s called This Wild Darkness and was published in 1996. Posthumously.

More? Sure. Imagine facing the ‘passage into nonexistence’, thinking what you are thinking, feeling what you are feeling, and yet being able to haul something like this from the swirl:
God is an immensity, while this disease, this death, which is in me, this small, tightly defined pedestrian event, is merely and perfectly real, without miracle--or instruction.

Is there a braver, sadder observation in literature? How perfect is that adjective ‘pedestrian’. It does its job, contrasts the plain event of death with the ungraspable cosmos. But it also connotes the steady trudge of cells turning bad, as disease surely overtakes the body.

How brave for Brodkey, trying to create one last masterpiece in the face of sickness unto oblivion, to admit that what he is observing is ‘without miracle—or instruction.’

To say such things, and so perfectly- I lust after that. Sometimes I just type passages from this book to feel them pouring from my fingers, to hear them singing in my brain. Passages like:

The self becomes taut with metamorphosis and seems to give off some light and to have a not-quite-great-enough fearlessness toward the immensity of the end of the individuality, toward one's absorption into the dance of particles and inaudibility.


If you can handle more, there is a longer except HERE at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Tibbetts always takes me there. I may not always agree with his analysis, but his own writing is always exquisite, detailed and creative.

AIDS is a tragedy of a first order and I often think towards the end, there is a peace in letting go. I was so touched by this article. AT, we adore you and you always make me think. Diane

Mon Jul 24, 10:37:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

God is an immensity, while this disease, this death, which is in me, this small, tightly defined pedestrian event, is merely and perfectly real, without miracle--or instruction.

Andrew, how utterlly personal and beautiful these words, and your praise. You did a good job this week, my boy!

Mon Jul 24, 01:45:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I know of what you speak: the envy of another's perfect words. Thank you for reminding us it's good to appreciate another's talent and to continue reaching for depth in our own work.

Mon Jul 24, 02:07:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Nonnie Augustine said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Mon Jul 24, 08:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Nonnie Augustine said...

Nonnie Augustine said...
You've picked a sentence to love that I will love now, too, having read it. My mother didn't talk much about her coming end, but one day when I woke from a nap on the chair in her room, the chair I lived on at that point, she was smiling at me. Her expression was utterly contented and so loving I could only just bear it.

Mon Jul 24, 09:00:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

you're your own perfect sentence are...xoxoxo

I love how you describe the drum, the feeling of the words, lovely...

Tue Jul 25, 05:14:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Tibbetts, you always make me want to be(come) a better writer. This is beautiful, as always. Thanks for the link/tip.

Thu Jul 27, 05:21:00 pm GMT-4  

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