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For One Sweet Grape Who Will the Vine Destroy?

In Cormac McCarthy’s pulverizing novel, “The Road,” we enter the final years perhaps months or days of civilization. The world is a burned out place of depressing despair, the result of climate change ignored, the waste of precious resources, the rape of the land and its beauty, the viciousness of marauding wars, and the cruel cold inhumanity of people, the end result of human beings diminished to their most primitive drives—violent, savage, diabolical.

A father and his young son are on “the road” to basically nowhere. They are just trying to survive and to hold on to the slightest thread of humanity left in them. Everything is dead. The waters of the ocean are black. Plants and flowers are all gone. Animals lay decomposed in their bleached skeletons everywhere. Ashes cover the earth. The sky is a dismal grey haze, a withering glare of menace. It is cold. Dirty snow falls. And the man, unnamed, perhaps in his 40s, stops at one point to reflect on what once was. He looks around at the devastation and his thoughts are narrated: “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

The loss of these spectacular gifts, these natural presents of creation, glorious bounties that were meanly ignored and insanely depleted by humans filled him with a mourning he could not dispel. It was now a part of him. And it dragged him down into terrible places of fear and rage.

McCarthy is attempting in all of this to deal with the end of things, of life and love and people and the whole ball of wax we consider to be civilized humanity. It obviously, in this despairing vision, does not end well. And it is a kind of warning to us that this could be the end we all are left to face.

There is, it seems to me, a stunning indifference in our country to the ravaging influences of hate and prejudice, greed and selfishness, and just the dismissal and lack of concern regarding how we are treating one another, how we keep ruining and using up the valuable resources of our environment, and how life itself is cheapened by our corrupt politics, our empty religious conduct, and the refusal to cooperate or understand or work together with others.

In Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece,” the poem is about wild unconstrained lust. It is about a man who rapes a woman simply because he wants to and has the power to do so. It is a brutal act against an unsuspecting and unwilling victim. Shakespeare asks all the right questions:

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute's mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

But the wisdom of those questions is ignored and the rape is carried out.

Is this where we are now? We know as people that we are destroying our land, our resources, one another and ourselves. Yet, still, we plow ahead into obliteration.

Poet, painter, and political activist Lawrence Ferlingetti, captures my mood: “I am awaiting / perpetually and forever / a renaissance of wonder.”

Perhaps that is all that will save us now.

© 2015 Timothy Moody

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