There’s Almost No Such Thing as Perfect Writing

There’s almost no such thing as perfect writing. Whoever once said of poetry that one never finishes a poem; one just abandons it, spoke truly of almost everything that has ever been written.

Homer wrote one perfect phrase: “The wine-dark sea.” You can’t get any more perfect than that.

Charles Dickens came close with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but, being Dickens, he had to ruin it by going on:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .

Thomas Jefferson got as close as a man of his times could get when he wrote “When, in the course of human events,” followed, momentarily, by “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

I’ve often averred that Dorothy Parker came quite close with “and sweet’s the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges,” but it only works with the set-up: “My land is bare of chattering folk; the clouds are low along the ridges.”

But something grabbed ahold of Dylan Thomas and gave him dozens and dozens of near-perfect phrases for A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

* The two-tounged sea

* In Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats

* White as Lapland, although there were no reindeers

* The wise cats never appeared

* Eternal, every since Wednesday

* Mr. Prothero, waving his slipper as though he was conducting

* Years and years ago when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales

* And we chased with the jawbones of deacons the English and the bears

* Books that told me everything about the wasp, except why

* There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles

* The gravy smell of the dinners of others

* Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver

* I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept

Most of us write away for our entire lives and never get anything like close to even one of those. Sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy.

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5 responses to “There’s Almost No Such Thing as Perfect Writing

  1. I have a very old 78RPM recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poem. I desperately need to get it into a format in which I can easily access and listen to it!

  2. Yay! Got it onto a memory stick and loaded! It is marvelous in his own voice!

  3. Pingback: Ephemera - TammyVitale.com

  4. You quote Dylan Thomas and you leave out “And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns …”?!?!

    If I ever write an autobiography, I am stealing that and changing it to “And honored among pickup trucks I was prince of the forest towns.”

  5. Chas, That’s a very good one, too! I’d read your autobiography; when is it coming out?

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