On my laptop I have a Word Document titled: “Great Passages From Books”.
I use this file to type out any piece of prose that stands out, whether for its aesthetic beauty or poignancy, for its emotional resonance or economy of phrase.
Sometimes it’s a piece of advice I want to remember, other times it’s a paragraph of prose that sends my heart aching at the recognition of sublimity.
This post is about the latter.
I just took a look through my document for 2014, and the passage that easily wins the prize for ‘Best Piece Of Writing I Read In The Last 12 Months’ goes to the linguistic titan that is Cormac McCarthy.
The passage comes from his novel All The Pretty Horses. It’s split into two paragraphs. The second paragraph is the real beauty, but I’ve put them both down below, as the first paragraph provides some context.
It describes the protagonist John Grady, as he rides on his horse:
He’d ride sometimes clear to the upper end of the laguna before the horse would even stop trembling and he spoke constantly to it in Spanish in phrases almost biblical repeating again and again the strictures of a yet untabled law. Soy comandante de las yeguas, he would say, yo y yo sólo. Sin la caridad de estas manos no tengas nada. Ni comida ni agua ni hijos. Soy yo que traigo las yeguas de las montañas, las yeguas jóvenes, las yeguas salvajes y ardientes.
While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who’s will and the blood convolutions of who’s will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations and of who’s will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned.”
Try reading the second section out loud.
Notice how it’s all contained in one single sublime sentence. As you read it you feel every pump of the horses legs, the undulating up-and-down motion as the creature bolts along, the physical, gasping exhaustion of the gallop. The sentence is lyrical prose poetry, dripping in visceral imagery, rhythmically perfect.
Read it again.
It’s like a sweet, delicious gulp of wine you can come back to and find just as rich every time.