The Most Important Sentence I Read This Year

Gavin Paul
5 min readDec 31, 2022
Varied Thrush. Photo by the author

Four words. That’s all it is. Four words, four syllables. I came across it late in my year of reading. Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger was published in October, his first novel in sixteen years. Like so much of McCarthy’s work The Passenger is dense, sonorous, achingly beautiful at times, esoteric and alluringly cryptic in many places, replete with dizzying conversations that chisel away at intractable questions related to life, death, human suffering, and metaphysics.

No one can describe the natural world like McCarthy, and The Passenger is replete with flashes of his remarkable vision: “Clouds had moved over the sun and it grew colder. The muskrat was gone and a wind stirred the water. He got up and swiped at the seat of his trousers and went on up along the west side of the creek. When he got to the fence he took the trail up the mountain, climbing among the ilex and laurel here on the north slope. A few old standing chestnut trunks dead and gray these fifty years or more. He reached the crest of the ridge in less than an hour and sat in the broken sun on a fallen log and looked out over the countryside below. He could see his grandmother’s house and the barn and the road and the adjoining small farms beyond, the pieced fields and the fencelines and woodlots. The rolling hills and ridges to the east.” I like typing these words, even though they aren’t mine. I like speaking them out loud, feeling them shape themselves in my mouth. But none of these sentences is the sentence.

There are some wonderful sentences in The Passenger. Here is one that I underlined and have come back to reread a few times: “The low hills a deep violet in the twilight and the Platte like a frayed silver rope where it ran downcountry over the braided flats, threading the sandbars in the deep burgandy dusk.”

But I said “most important,” not most beautiful or aesthetically pleasing or thought-provoking, and the sentence that I can’t get out of my head is conspicuously stark:

“Dont close your eyes.”

(That’s not a typo — McCarthy tends to eschew punctuation marks like commas and apostrophes.)

“Dont close your eyes.” Four words. Four syllables. That’s the one. The sentence matters because of the sentence that precedes it: “He thought that God’s…

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Gavin Paul

English Professor. Author of "Conspiracy of One," a small book of short stories, and “The Coward," a collection of essays. amazon.com/author/gavinpaul