Exercise Day 5

The Passage:

“I could!” Mendel shouted, and banged his fist against his head. “I could, Benchik!” he yelled with all his might, staggering like an epileptic. “This courtyard around me, in which I have served a sentence for the first half my life. This courtyard has seen me be the father of my children, the husband of my wife, the master of my horses. It has seen my glory, that of my twenty stallions and my twelve iron-reinforced carts. It has seen my legs, unshakable as pillars, and my arms, my evil arms. But now unlock the gates for me, my dear sons, today let me for once do as I wish! Let me leave this courtyard that has seen too much!” — Isaac Babel, The Odessa Stories

Analysis: Opens with a sense of desperation, illustrated with metaphors of insanity, then settles and expands into a deep (and very grounded) sense of scope. The time encompassed in this paragraph is vast. It evokes the image of human dreams and is tinged with nostalgia. A visceral articulation of youth, which in turn implies age, an an approaching sense of mortality. Visceral words — “my glory,” “my legs, unshakable as pillars,” and very unique descriptors — “my evil arms.” An underlying drive of passion. Syntactically, this becomes very deliberately paced — no long rich sentences, but rather, short and punctuated — giving a sense of immediacy, keeping your attention as a reader very focused.


“See this?” he said, and gestured his arms like a bird trying to fly. “See this?” his voice rose to an angry pitch the more he thought about what he was trying to say. “This land around me, on which I spent the prime years of my life. These hills have seen me become a father, love my wife, each year tend my crops. It has seen me in my glory and it’s seen me in defeat. It has seen the aging of my body, these legs strong as horses, these arms deft as lightning. It has held me and kept me safe and given me great hardship and great riches, and I have earned it time and time again. Leave me here to grow old and die on this land that has seen me live.”

Analysis: lost it at the end, but I couldn’t not take it where it wanted to go.

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