Year by year, the earth would take them…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. I comment today on a sentence written by American novelist John Williams.

Every once in awhile, I like to read a really old-fashioned book. My latest? The 1965 novel Stoner, by John Williams. A friend highly recommended it and while I didn’t share his unvarnished enthusiasm for the story, I enjoyed being taken back to the end of the nineteenth century into the life of a dirt-poor Missouri farming family.

A elegy to disappointment —  in work, in marriage and in love — Stoner tells the story of a good, committed man, who learns to tolerate the unfairness he encounters in just about every aspect of his life. There’s not much uplift in here, but there is some very fine writing. Here is one of the sentences I particularly admired.

Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them.

Stoner, the character, (his first name is William), is standing at the graveside after having buried his parents. I like the orotund nature of the sentence, so carefully balanced on either side of the accurately applied semi-colon. His parents were farmer who took from the earth. Now the earth is taking back from them.

A perfectly written sentence!

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