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A "Sentence" from A Song for Arbonne
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Exercise AK SC G11 Lit
     A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay (Chapter 5 BCA 1992, originally published by Harper Collins) Written for adults but older children (15+) could read it. One thing that is nice about GGK's work is that he takes a period of history and takes the settings and attitudes and turns it into a fantasy, but with a twist of truth. I think it was Byron who said that he needed some truth in his fiction to appreciate it. I find I agree. 
-- Celia, in Australia, who suggested this passage

     I have not had the opportunity to read this novel, but Celia finds such fascinating sentences that I can't help but place them in the workbooks, analyze the syntax, and speculate about their stylistic implications.  The entire selection consists of 78 words, in one main clause followed by a lengthy fragment:

She turned back to watch Valery deal with the rope. 
     And so saw, by a trick, an angle, a flaring of torchlight, far down the dark river, how the arrow -- white-feathered, she would remember, white as innocence, as winter in midsummer, as death -- fell from the summit of its long, high arc to take the coran in the shoulder, driving him, slack and helpless, from the ropes into the river amid laughter turned to screaming in the night.
The core of these 78 words appears to be "She saw how the arrow fell," which is a pretty plain statement. The modifiers, however, add mystery, significance, foreshadowing, and finally horror to the scene. The prepositional phrases after "saw" evoke mystery -- "by a trick, an angle, a flaring of torchlight." Which was it? The trick? The angle? Or the flaring of torchlight? It's not clear, and the lack of clarity is reinforced by the following "far down the dark river." Then we come to the arrow and the following parenthetical comment. The extended focus on "white-feathered," -- "white as innocence, as winter in midsummer, as death," marks this event as epiphanic, one of those moments in our lives that become etched in our memories. Such memories often have a focus on one clear visual image, in this case, the white feathered arrow. Symbolically, the ellipsed clauses that modify "white" are beautifully done and prophetic. "White as innocence" starts the reader off on a very common association. But it is immediately followed by "white as winter in midsummer." Winter in midsummer? What kind of white is that? That is unnatural. That is, symbolically, death (winter) in the midst of the prime of life (midsummer). And, for readers who missed the symbolism, it is confirmed in white "as death."
     The epiphanic nature of the moment is further reinforced by the parenthetical "she would remember." This clause illustrates one of the reasons in KISS for considering such clauses as interjections. The grammatical explanation is minimal, but it should allow students to see and discuss the difference between this structure and "She would remember that the arrow was white-feathered." The latter puts "she would remember" in the main slots of the main S/V pattern, thereby putting much more focus on her remembering, and less focus on what she remembered. In effect, the original reverses this emphasis -- the "she would remember modifies and emphasizes the importance of  the visual image "white-feathered" of the epiphanic moment.
     Revisited, epiphanic moments usually are seen in slow motion as the mind replays the significance of the scene. Two prepositional phrases evoke this slow motion -- "fell from the summit of its long, high arc." Note that "long" here, although it technically refers to space, also evokes a sense of "long" in time." Many, if not all readers, will probably visualize the white feathers of the arrow, slowly descending, as death, toward the target. The arrow takes the coran forcefully in the shoulder, "driving him, slack and helpless." The visual nature of the description is reinforced by the two following prepositional phrases, "from the ropes into the river." And we end with laughter turned to fear in the blackness of the night. Note that the very grammatical fragment itself may reinforce the isolated, almost fragmentary nature of epiphanic moments.
     Perhaps one of the best ways to use this exercise would be to have students analyze the sentence structure and then ask the students to try to de-combine the fragment into shorter, complete sentences. In the process of doing so, they may gain more of a sense of how sentence structure supports meaning. My own attempt at de-combining (See the sentence-combining exercise.) provides a very pale version of Kay's original. Whereas Kay's original catches the total of the momentary experience, all clearly tied to "how the arrow fell," de-combined versions, perhaps because they have to repeat some nouns and verbs, fragment the experience.