From "Alchemy" in Late Night Thoughts
on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony,
Toronto: Bantam Books, 1983, p. 31-32.
This paragraph caught my attention because
of the second part, which is about the meaning of "grammar." It is too
long for a single exercise, so I have split it into two parts. You may
want to read one part to your students and have them do the other part
as an exercise.
I could, of course, have used only the second
part, but the first part contains some very interesting syntactic constructions.
It includes an unusual subordinate clause fragment. It also has numerous
appositives, including two clauses that can alternatively be explained
either as main clauses or as subordinate (noun) clauses that function as
appositives. Further on, an interesting parenthetical subordinate clause
can be explored for its stylistic effects as it slides between an adjectival
clause and an interjection. An within that parenthetical expression, there
is an unusual, but not rare elliptical clause construction -- "for the
vacuums they believed were needed in their work." Taken together, these
constructions make this short passage an excellent exercise for discussing
both "bending the rules" and alternative explanations.
The second part of the paragraph, the part
that first caught my attention, did so because it suggests that the word
"grammar" was at one time not only associated with high learning, but also
with magical power and even glamour! (How things have changed! -- In suggesting
this passage, I obviously have propaganda objectives in mind.) The syntax
of the second part is much simpler than that of the first, but it does
include a participle ("casting") that can alternatively be explained as
either a gerund or a gerundive.