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· The First Grace of Style ·

Marianne Moore has given me my title. I've alluded to her before, but she deserves direct quotation since my subject today is compression, well illustrated in her clever, short poem

To a Snail

If "compression is the first grace of style,"
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, "a method of conclusions";
"a knowledge of principles,"
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Given the value of compression — Miss Moore's quote comes from Democritus — I thought to share an apparently true story from Harvard University, though I'm a bit doubtful. (Anyone who knows the story of "veritas" there should, of course, be a skeptic.) But regardless, the anecdote is amusing.

Students in a Harvard English 101 class were asked to write a CONCISE essay containing four elements: religion, royalty, sex and mystery.

The only "A+" in the class read:

"My God," said the Queen, "I'm pregnant! I wonder who did it?"

Alas, I don't have any A+ essays in the sets I'm reading today — at least by Hahvahd standards.

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Posted by Styles on November 20, 2002 02:30 PM


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