Robert Hass, from “Shame”

So that the core of the self, we learn early, is where shame lives / and where you also learn doubleness, and a certain practical cunning, / and what a theater is, and the ability to lie.

I should get some poetry in here early because I want to include sentences from poems, even though they often have the extra advantage of being scored with line breaks. When I include sentences from poems, I’ll try to include those whose magic doesn’t rely solely on their line breaks, like this one from Hass, which is better with the pauses but would be good as prose too.

What makes Hass’ sentence work is the progression of it. Through rhythm and the repetition of all those ands, yes, but also in the reader’s surprise in how far he’s willing to go. If we accept the sentence on its own terms, the first surprise is that shame “lives” at our core, and, guess what, also our ability to project another self, to trick others, to understand the performances that everyday life requires, and, even, to lie. This sentence slugs me in the gut every time I read it.

4 Responses to “Robert Hass, from “Shame””

  1. Valentine Hart

    Gibson – I love this project and wish you the best in keeping on with it. I, too, love sentences, and am inspired to compile my own list. I’ve been collecting quotations for some time; many of them I can mine for the best of the best sentences. The reward is in the contemplation, and the concise answer to the question you pose: What makes this sentence work?

    • gibson

      Thanks, Val. Yes, there are so many ways a sentence can work–I hope to get at that over time as these pile up. If you like, send me a favorite or two from time to time.

  2. Rick Simonds

    I, too, love sentences and spend a great deal of time exploring them in my creative writing classes. I’d love to partake in your quest.


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