Beautiful Sentences: A Different Kind of American Idol Contest

About 200 people visit this website each week–not a great crowd, but one that is slowly growing.  Each time I log in to the dashboard to begin writing another post, I get another set of statistics that informs me which post is most popular and what search terms people are using that brings my blog to their attention.

A few weeks ago, I began to notice something.  One post I wrote about Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s book included the phrase “beautiful sentences” in the title.  That post has risen to near the top of my “most popular” entries, and the term “beautiful sentences” is one that has attracted more readers than any other in the last week.

Are you a discriminating reader who thinks about writing at the level of the sentence?  Do you have a few favorite quotes–beautiful sentences?  I invite you to submit them to a new contest located right here in the comments section of this post. The inbox will stay open until May 27 at 10 p.m.  I will gather up the quotes and make a new post out of all of them and then ask readers to vote on their favorites.  The winner will receive a memoir selected just for him or her from my overflowing memoir bookcase. Feel free to submit a sentence of your own! And enjoy the hunt for beautiful sentences in everything you read in the next week.

As you know, it was a contest that got me started writing memoir.  Maybe this one will get you started too!

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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29 Responses to Beautiful Sentences: A Different Kind of American Idol Contest

  1. Gutsywriter says:

    Interesting that Beautiful sentences attracted more people. I need to think hard about that. It would be nice if you could give us an example of one that YOU find beautiful. Thanks.

  2. amishguitar says:

    The distance between Mooreland in 1965 and a city like San Francisco in 1965 is roughly equivalent to the distance starlight must travel before we look up casually from a cornfield and see it. –Haven Kimmel in A girl named Zippy

  3. Christee says:

    I hope this qualifies…it's a lyric, actually…You promised me gloves from the skins of the fishesThe smile of the dolphin for a ring in my handsFrom the song, “You Brought Me Up.” Words by Louis De Paor. I know the song from a CD by Karan Casey, who used to sing with the Irish group Solas. Beautiful song and these are my favorite lines.

  4. shirleyhs says:

    Sonia, thanks for this invitation. You remind me of a subject that could become its own blog post. How I read. I always have a pen or pencil in my hand when I read. I can answer your question because from the book I am reading right now, Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow by Forrest Church. I underline two things–key ideas I would like to remember and the beautiful sentences I discover. Church is less literary than Haven Kimmel and Louis De Paor below in the great selections produced by readers below. His best sentences are more philosophical, and sometimes witty, like this one. “The overexamined life is not worth living.” Or profound, like this one” “The only thing that can never be taken from us is the love we give away.”Which kind of sentence is best? It's a matter of personal taste. Although there is something like collective assent. That's why we have this contest. Hope this helps. I look forward to your contribution.

  5. Gutsywriter says:

    I love both sentences you gave as examples. So profound and and so true.

  6. mcmce says:

    I've thought about single sentences with even more respect ever since seeing the movie “Broadcast News” years ago, in which a high school valedictorian, attached in the schoolyard after graduation by a couple of anti-intellectual thugs, hollers after them, by way of getting his revenge, “You'll never know the joy of writing a graceful sentence!” It's an ominous threat and an exhilarating reminder of what access to joy there is in a well-turned sentence. I haven't decided what actually to submit to the contest yet, because it's such a tough competition, but just for fun, here are a few old favorites while I muse:”There were ten thousand, thousand fruit to touch, / cherish in hand, and not let fall.” — Robert Frost, from “After Apple Picking”And what you thought you came forIs only a shell, a husk of meaningFrom which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilledIf at all. — T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. — Psalm 139Haply I think on thee, and then my state,Like to the lark at break of day arisingFrom sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth bringsThat then I scorn to change my state with kings. — Shakespeare, sonnet 29I suppose the King James Bible ought to be off-limits for this contest–who's going to trump the Psalms? Maybe Shakespeare, too? On the other hand, they're such troves of sentences worth remembering, perhaps they deserve contests of their own. Thank you for thinking to do this! It's fun to sit here in early morning neglecting lesser things, thinking of sentences that have seen me through–which is what they do. They come when you need them, don't they? More anon.

  7. shirleyhs says:

    Oh the riches of finding other peoples' favorite sentences! Thank you, Marilyn, Christee, and Kevin. And thank you, Sonia, for your question. Let's see what happens as we get closer to May 27. I did not have a rule about how many times you can enter this contest, so let's just keep it open. If you have new ones to offer, pass them along!

  8. amishguitar says:

    I would if I could. My problem is that I just don't remember works with that much detail. I'll remember how a book made me feel and maybe a bit about the story, but I'll not remember any of the words. I do so enjoy a well crafted sentence and marvel at them when I come across them. And then they're gone. I had just finished Kimmel's two memoirs and was just astounded by her turns of phrase and marvelous sentences so the timing couldn't have been more perfect. She had sentences that took my breath away. When she talks about discovering poems in her teacher's library for instance. But soon the memories of the sentences will be gone and I'll only remember that her stories pleased me.

  9. shirleyhs says:

    I certainly understand this tendency, Kevin, and I share the problem of not remembering. That's why I do all that underlining! But, over time, certain phrases, poems, sentences do come rushing back, at least in snatches. With Google, I can just go find them again. I love that!For example, Stuart is traveling in Greece and Turkey right now and wrote back to describe the incredible traces of empire left at Ephesis. I immediately thought of how Edgar Alan Poe compared Helen to those Nigeon boats of yore and the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome. My memory did not have it perfectly, but Google did. And the reason I remembered that much is that when I was in 10th grade, one of my friends satirized the poem. I see him lisping his way through it as the class laughed. But the words stuck because they were beautiful and terribly romantic, just the right tone for adolescence.Marilyn, above, is right about the KJV and Shakespeare, and memorization is a great idea, too. I had to memorize about a dozen poems in the 8th grade. Among them “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and “Flower in the Crannied Wall.” I also remember a dozen or so lines from Willa Cather, my favorite writer from my dissertation days. We have to go back again and again to our favorite sentences to truly make them ours. The lovely line you chose from Haven Kimmel might just stick now because you pulled it out and wrote it down. This is one reason to have a contest for beautiful sentences!

  10. Wayne Ramsey says:

    Beautiful sentences. A very nice idea to think about, Shirley, thank you.Isn’t there a line in Philippians about: Whatever is true,Whatever is lovely,If there is anything worthy of praiseThink about these things (although I think I probably shortened it — anyone know it?I’ll throw in some favorites (I hope there is no word limit), but they seem to need a context.When you say “beautiful sentences”, my mind starts thinking about both the beautiful expression of sentences in English, and beautiful sentiments in English.Or may be both.I had a high school English teacher who thought the most beautiful line in English poetry was Coleridge’s As idle as a painted shipUpon a painted ocean.We argued with her when she taught us Houseman LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough, And stands about the woodland ride Wearing white for Eastertide.As I got older, I began to pay attention to how poets talk about love, and thought there could be no more beautiful lines than some love poemslike John DonneI WONDER by my troth, what thou and IDid, till we loved ?or ShakespeareLet me not to the marriage of true mindsAdmit impediments.or YeatsWHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deepAnd older still, maybe we all begin to think in terms of gratitude and appreciation for being alive, for the blessings of life and the divine presence in life”There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” –A. Einsteinee cummingsi thank You God for most this amazingday:for the leaping greenly spirits of treesand a blue true dream of sky;and for everythingwhich is natural which is infinite which is yesbut also the effort it takes to find that joy.I love Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Eve letter, includingThe gloom of the world is but a shadow,behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see,and to see, we only have to look. I beseech you to look.until finally you appreciate the beauty and truth in the line from Meister Eckhart”If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice.” – Still, the most beautiful, intelligent and spiritual line I know may be from that great spiritual teacher Yogi Berra, who said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”It’s all beautiful.

  11. shirleyhs says:

    Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.If I never do anything else with this blog, Wayne, “I shall not have lived in vain” knowing that it inspired this reply. It's all beautiful indeed.

  12. Adam says:

    Two from G. M. Hopkins:…Because the Holy Ghost over the bentWorld broods with warm breast and with ah ! bright wings.—-from “God's Grandeur”All things counter, original, spare, strange;Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;Praise him.—-from Pied Beauty

  13. Bruce Hostetler says:

    “But tonight they've forgotten their feet are so soreand that's what the wonderful night time is for.”- Dr. Seuss (from The Sleep Book)

  14. shirleyhs says:

    Adam and Bruce, Thank you for these comments. What a great opportunity to see two forms of beauty side-by-side. Hopkins and Suess. Two geniuses in their own form and styles.I can see that judging this contest is going to be hard work indeed.

  15. Mariposa says:

    “It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.” -G. K. Chesterton in “Orthodoxy”

  16. shirleyhs says:

    Thanks, Mary. This is a new one for me. So much fun. And I enjoyed noticing that e.e.cummings popped up on your FaceBook statue report recently also. That's one of the many benefits of thinking about and sharing beautiful sentences. The one someone else contributes becomes perfect in our own life when the time is right.

  17. srogers says:

    “You can't test courage cautiously” — Annie Dillard

  18. shirleyhs says:

    Thanks, Sally. You prove much can be said in five words!

  19. srogers says:

    “An original life is unexplored territory. You don't get there by taking a taxi — you get there by carrying a canoe.” — Alan Alda

  20. Elaine Sayre says:

    The most beautiful sentence…I love you.The second most beautiful sentence…I forgive you.

  21. Betty says:

    A new quote I like because I just watched a movie portraying it is this: Happiness is real only when shared.I am posting about it tomorrow, if you care to read about it.

  22. Mariposa says:

    🙂 I think e.e.cummings was talking about the weather over Oregon this past weekend…just had to put that up!!I love the way words can be chosen and put together in such a way that they can paint an entire picture, or tell a whole story in a few, concise, well-chosen words. The problem is…..I so rarely stop “doing stuff” long enough to take notice. Thanks for the nudge to take more notice!!!

  23. shirleyhs says:

    Elaine, you know me well. 🙂 Betty, I look forward to reading your blog post. Your personality really jumps off the screen in your blog. Loved the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website, too!

  24. shirleyhs says:

    Elaine, you know me well. 🙂 Betty, I look forward to reading your blog post. Your personality really jumps off the screen in your blog. Loved the Mennonite Girls Can Cook website, too!

  25. sepid says:

    Wait for the guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him, who will stay awake just to watch you sleep, who will show you off to all his friends because he doesn’t care, who holds your hand in front of his friends,who is constantly reminding you how much he cares for you, wait for the guy who will be willing to tell the whole world he loves you, not even caring who hears him.

  26. sepid says:

    Loving you is like breathing…I just can’t stop.

  27. sepid says:

    * True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.

  28. sepid says:

    Love, knows no reason, knows no time, it has a sole intention of bringing people together to a time, called FOREVER..

  29. shirleyhs says:

    Sepid, thank you for finding this page and adding so many beautiful sentences to it–even after the contest has long ended. My first thought: this person is in love! Have you tried songwriting? May your inspiration continue. So glad you shared it here.

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