The written word is two-dimensional when set in ink on paper. Yet, each word is three-dimensional when one considers not only the length and breadth on the page or the screen, but the depth, which comes from artful use of language and infused layers of meaning.
Beautiful writing — like beautiful art, architecture, nature, and people — employs all three of these dimensions, as it’s not only what we see with the naked eye that lights a fire in our soul.
True beauty lies beneath the words. The meaning underneath instills life into what’s on the surface, like the radiant heart beneath every smile.
It’s difficult to define beauty as anything else but an indescribable essence that makes us feel something.
Beauty takes our breath away when a woman or man crosses the street; it causes us to stop and pull the car over to marvel at the colors of the sky; it sends a tear down our cheek after reading a profound line of writing.
Beauty, in any form, makes life worth living. In its subjectivity, one can find their own beauty in the world, from the delicate nature of a glassy pond and the wonder contained within it; to the traits of him, he’d rather keep withheld and the subtleties which make her unlike anybody else.
Here too, I believe lies the power of writing.
Whether good or bad, insightful or playful, a writer can express any experience in a way that binds them with the reader in a connection transcending language and time, like a bridge between two hearts.
Every experience which says something about who we are as people can be beautifully crafted, as every experience is worth being conveyed when it comes from a place of love.
This description of poetry by Emily Dickinson I believe applies to beautiful writing in general:
“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know this is poetry.”
What this means is up to you to decide. But I believe it means that poetry makes one feel as if they don’t only see with their eyes, hear with their ears, or taste with the tip of their tongue.
Poetry inspires us with every well-placed word; it asks us to listen with our soul.
Poetry moves us with its imagery and makes us question the world we think we know. Often we must dig deep to understand poetry and what makes the writing beautiful, for when we do, we dig deeper within ourselves.
All it takes is a line of poetry or even just a sentence of prose to make us stop and wonder.
No matter what I’m reading, I love beautiful writing which paints a picture in my mind. Beautiful writing takes me to a place I can only imagine, yet the power of the human mind is capable of imagining extraordinary things.
On James Joyce
James Joyce’s use of poetic devices in his short story, The Dead, makes me stop on each word to reflect on what I’d read.
Yet, the writing isn’t dense and confusing. It’s simple, and thus elevates the narrative. Joyce writes:
“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too on every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked cross and headstone, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
To me, this writing is beautiful on the surface and underneath. Francine Prose comments on this passage in Reading Like a Writer:
“Many of the devices of poetry: meter, alliteration, assonance — swooned slowly, faintly falling — are employed here, as well as the repetitions of the words falling, falling faintly, and faintly falling, in a series of sentences that at once tie together the themes of the story.”
As exemplified here, poetic devices aren’t solely reserved for poetry.
Through the simple words, Joyce brings to life this forgotten cemetery that conceals the dead, and although dark and gray in subject, the passage beams with immutable light.
On Ernest Hemingway
As a writer, I aspire to write beautifully irrespective of the topic. As no story is undeserving of being captured by the written word, no sentence is unworthy of beauty and depth, on the surface and below.
Ernest Hemingway, the master of minimalist prose, didn’t exactly use the word beautiful when, in A Moveable Feast, he described his process of crafting a sentence. Hemingway wrote:
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going … I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’”
What is a true sentence? He doesn’t define true, yet it differs from a true statement, as Hemingway is describing his process of writing fiction, so the sentence doesn’t necessarily need to be “true.”
A true sentence in Hemingway fashion may be simple and it may be bare, although, like poetry, it can still be beautiful.
Francine Prose writes of Hemingway’s statement in Reading Like a Writer:
“Perhaps it’s wisest to assume that Hemingway, like countless others, was simply confusing truth with beauty. Possible what he really meant was a beautiful sentence — a concept that, as we have seen, is almost as hard to define as the one true sentence.”
When I read a line of writing which makes me feel as if I’m there not only reading, but seeing, it reinforces why I love to read. Moreover, it reminds me why I love to write.
The world is so often nothing short of beautiful, not just how it looks, but the meaning underneath our experiences.
Our daily interactions, thoughts, and revelations after years of feeling lost; I strive to capture these moments through the words I set down.
Of course, there’s substantial room for improvement and always will be.
But writing just one beautiful sentence inspires me to keep writing, to keep going, to bring myself and the reader the unequivocal joy I feel when noticing the fleeting details of the world and the ones that have remained.