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This article is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Ruskin and the Sense of an Ending Clive Wilmer

In Memory of Tony Tanner

'Rhythm,' wrote Ezra Pound, 'is a form cut into time.' The metaphor of cutting, in Pound's vocabulary, is meant to remind us of those arts, sculpture and stone-carving, which involve the cutting away of superfluous material. But the analogy makes us conscious of the obvious difference. Our experience of sculpture is essentially spatial, whereas 'poetry, like music,' as Donald Davie has said, 'erects its structures in the lapse of time'. And not just poetry and music but prose as well, especially that kind of prose - Hooker's and Browne's or Proust's and Ruskin's - which favours the long and elaborated sentence, deferring closure to such an extent that, when an ending is finally reached, we have almost forgotten how the sentence began. There are long sentences - some of Dr Johnson's perhaps - that are so exact and firm in their proportions, we anticipate the rhythmic outcome before it is achieved. Ruskin, by contrast - especially the later, aleatory Ruskin - tantalises his readers with suspense, makes them conscious of the sentence as something that unfolds itself in the time it takes to read it, causes them to doubt that an outcome will be possible.

Yet an outcome, sooner or later, there must be. That is what the dictionary means when it defines a sentence as a 'set of words, complete in itself' (my italics); and the same applies to paragraph, chapter and book. None of these things could exist without a beginning or an end. Literary form is a matter of finitude. Yet Pound's sculptural metaphor seems to imply that there's quite another way of lo

This article is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

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