108– Passage chosen in book
This piece is a jumble of impressions, twisted together like the threads from a tapestry to show a bigger, more complete picture of life (cliché, yes I know). The run on sentences “whimpering before he was awake, an inarticulated soprano speaking through not quite weeping in complaint to his mother as before a sure jury of some freight of dream…” and so on (as you will notice, the entire paragraph is one sentence) are meant to better display the true consistency of life; it is not punctuated with the pauses and breaks that a period allows. It flows onward, steadily and unbending, not slowing because its occupants need that extra hour of rest, or need the time to comfort a child. And so we see this sentence go on like a river, the flow of Bart’s whimpering, joined by the tributary of his mother’s creaky mattress and comforting, Southern “git awn back to sleep.” In this form the paragraph slides on, more sounds joining the symphony started with a cry until “once more that silence wherein more deep than starlight this home is foundered” has returned. By abandoning the constraints of writing in the English language, he allows himself to capture those impressions that otherwise lone words could not contain: in order to truly encapsulate the moment he must employ rhythm and music and sound and light and the fuzzy thoughts of those just out of sleep. By ditching grammar, he has given himself the freedom to write his impressions as soon as they enter his mind, unchanged by the rules of English. He “anneals all fence of language and surpasses music” in his sleepy, unedited scribblings. Because the paragraph doesn’t quite make sense, he captures the sleepy confusion of the moment. Here form is as reflective of his subject as the words themselves.
He is also able to draw the reader’s attention to the words and sentences that he believes accurately record the moment. For instance, when reading aloud the paragraph the phrases “whimpering” “inarticulated soprano” “jury of some freight” “stifled and gentle” “cadence” “fence of language” “grumbling of weak springs” “whimpering, sinking” “drawn off as lightest lithest edge of bow, thinner, thinner, a thread, a filament” stand out from the parts that are dismissed by the reader as nonsensical: we grab hold of words and phrases that stick out to us in order to understand what is happening and what he is describing. And because he provides these mental handholds, Agee is able to control our own jumbled impressions of the work.