Let’s Get Biblical


Today I was reading the L.A. Times’s review of critic James Wood’s How Fiction Works and ran across this term, a rhetorical term, I suppose: Biblical polysyndeton, “a series of conjunctions, making for torrential sentences.” I didn’t know there was an actual term for such a device.

Immediately, I was reminded of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, especially that first chapter, and sentences like this:

In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

And I was reminded again of how influential the King James Bible was on my favorite writers, not only their moral and intellectual themes, their metaphors and allusions, but the rhythms of their sentences. Hemingway and Faulkner and now contemporaries like Cormac McCarthy, all have that Authorized Version biblical rhythm, the torrential sentences that you want to go on and on and on, like the river and the leaves falling, as if those sentences came from Old Testament sages:

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

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