The story of man in 57 words?

I came upon this last night and have been coming back to it all day. It’s gorgeous and it’s dangerous. I’m interested in how others might be reading it – heck, I’m not even sure yet how I’m reading it . . . these words have not finished with me.

He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and the world’s pain and beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.

Cormac McCarthy,  All The Pretty Horses

He said that without a single comma. Note to self: fewer commas.

18 responses to “The story of man in 57 words?

  1. Fewer commas? Moe, there lies the pain for I have never met the comma I didn’t like, and could place in spots where commas had never before been seen.


    • Oh JR (Hi! nice to see you), you and me too! I also am terribly fond of using superfluous adjectives and adverbs which do not clarify or improve. I work on that . . . now the commas!


  2. Pretty dark, those pretty horses…


  3. Some passage.
    I’d say the mix of words and contrasts in the sentences are very seldomly well done. At once dry and emotionally poetic.
    It sounds honest and not vain, yet very close to it.
    But it sounds like a person partly stuck in the mud. It might be true but it’s probably not helpful or necessary to think like that.
    And it could tip over into guilt for the good things in life.
    But it is a beautiful passage.


    • mac, you hit on what got me about it . . . the beauty. The more I read it, the less sympathetic I am to the message, but hey, beautiful it is! Could that we all wrote like that.


  4. Words I might post here but not on my own blog (I really appreciate the ‘space’ your blog allows for the part of me that doesn’t quite fit with the tone/mission of my own blog): “That would be one hell of a flower.”

    (All possible fluid mind-shifts in my statement duly noted and consciously allowed to stand … hell to pay for such beauty?)

    I deeply appreciate what I think is the bleak awareness captured in the quotation. It’s a level of awareness I’ve chosen to hold in abeyance.

    I was going to suggest an alternative view, which in my memory is from cummings, and describes “through the green fuse drives the flower”. But on searching for a link I find a longish Dylan Thomas poem of that title, ( Somehow, over time, I’ve blended this poem title in memory with cummings “My father moved through dooms of love” ( So I give up.

    Instead, I remember childhood summer days fishing floundering insects from the cattle water tank — I was impressed that each and every creature was motivated to live, (i.e. ‘the green fuse’, the compulsion to thrive).

    I’ve no articulate notion of how my ‘blended take of other impressions’ weighs against McCarthy’s words! But somehow I think have relevance!


    • Maggie – I think you perfectly sum up how I now feel about that quote: “That would be one hell of a flower.”

      I suppose it raises lots of questions about means and ends . . . I said above to Donald that he seems to be talking about war. Do you think so?


      • maggieannthoeni

        First I have to confess I’ve not read McCarthy and haven’t seen any of his movies! So I’m approaching the words ‘cold’. I’m also approaching them as poetry, even if they’re lines from a novel, (just checked Wikipedia).

        Based on my limited experiences as a writer, especially of poetry, I think it’s possible McCarthy himself is writing ‘from the gut’ and that the words capture an ‘essence’ of some energetic dynamic he ‘senses’.

        Based on what the words ‘evoke’ for me, whatever “the flower” is, which may be war, it’s an event in which humanity completely fails itself. It could be war, it could be what we’re doing to the earth itself, our ever-accelerating destruction. (??)

        I didn’t mean to write so much but since I typed it while thinking, I’ll include the description of my ‘analysis’ of his words:

        “pain and beauty (moving) in relationship of divergent equity” … perhaps as one amplifies, is increased in complexity, intensity, and magnitude – so, in equal measure, does the other?

        Because he describes the relationship as divergent, I’ve got a ‘y’ shape in my head, (pain on one path, beauty on another), which causes masses of populations to be captured ‘in(side) this headlong deficit’. Their situation is horrendous, (“blood of multitudes”).

        But because the two are “in relationship” – they continuously influence one another. There’s some kind of ‘compelling’ unfolding going on.

        If I’m to make final sense of it, I’ve somehow got to have the ‘dynamic’ result in creation of a single something that that could be considered a flower! Hmm … a culminating event simultaneously unspeakably horrific and indescribably beautiful. Maybe thinking of how ‘awe’ can combine being in a state of appreciating both at the same time?

        I think maybe the words would ‘resonate’ with too many people these days, in too many lands – am thinking of course of Middle East oil lands but also those directly dealing with Fukushima? (Or the recent floods in Colorado, or, or, or … !) (I’d include animals in “blood of multitudes”, but that’s just me!)

        Whew! 🙂


  5. McCarthy’s words remind me that I do tend to overuse commas, but commas in moderation, like salt to food, are, I submit, necessary to digestibility. Because his prose parses properly, albeit with effort, it strikes me as a paean to grammar, something which may be in this digital, acronymic age, a dying art. His work is admirable but I prefer authors who do more of the work for me. He seems to have bypassed my idols, Strunk and White.


  6. McCarthy was a bit too addicted, in my opinion, to polysyndetic syntax and his entire Border Trilogy is, hence, a pain for me to read. Perhaps he was too much of a fan of Hemingway.


    • jonolan, I’m not a reader either, but the quote grabbed me. I came across it on the frontice page of Dexter Filkins book ‘The Forever War”. And of course you had to go and use a word I don’t think I”ve ever seen written – polysyndetic. Thank Elvis I had four years of Latin.


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