Saturday, April 28, 2007

Worms’ meat...or more?

Does the reality of the food chain undermine the possibility of transcendence, which we self-conscious creatures long for in our quieter, emptier moments? Consciousness tells us there’s more, and of course we want it. Modern advertising depends on it. Wanting more might be humankind’s signal identifying trait: the lust for transcendence.

But man doesn’t sit atop the food chain as he likes to think. He too can be eaten.
Shakespeare of course knew this. His Mercutio, wounded by Tybalt’s sword thrust in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, says, “ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man”; he has been “made worms’ meat of” [III.i.96,111]. And his Rosalind in As You Like It: “Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love” [IV.i.105-106].
And John Donne knew it: “When my mouth shall be filled with dust, and the worm shall feed, and feed sweetly upon me...” [XXVI Sermons, no. 26].
And Benjamin Frankin: “The body of Benjamin Frankin, Printer (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding), lies here, food for worms...” [Epitaph on Himself].
Branches of forensic science rest on the fact that corpses are eaten by maggots and even by the microorganisms that in life inhabited their intestines [Jessica Snyder Sachs’s Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death].

And the cosmological parallel to this is the death of stars. Our own sun will someday die. If there is still life on Earth when that day arrives, what do we think will happen to it in the days following? And what other life on other planets has already perished in other cataclysisms of dying suns?

Does the reality of the food chain, of the birth and death of suns and planets, say no to the possibility of transcendence? We self-conscious creatures may long for it and our consciousness may tell us there’s more, and even that there’s God...But can we ever know it? Or is our only consolation to believe (conjure the faith) that the Being we prayed into Being really did make this world...and an afterworld1?

We live in the moment, and the moment is brief. But the moment that we have can be for love and laughter...or for unspeakable alternatives. Within this bloody cycle of Nature and the Cosmos, we can choose to be, for however brief a moment...whatever we have the means to be. Nature’s means to create and destroy are awesome, but man’s are not negligible.
  1. My gratitude for Howard Nemerov's “Creation Myth on a Moebius Band” will not die willingly:
    The world's just mad enough to have been made
    By the Being his beings into Being prayed.


  1. Very thoughtful, and when I'm awake these things run through my mind. However, asleep: do I worry about such things? Is death not sometimes referred to as the long sleep. We close our eyes at night believing we will open them once more, how different will death be?
    You make a person think!

  2. Exactly, Ed. And I was thinking the next day (now yesterday), after my post of that day, that that long sleep whereof you speak may be our final "peaceful unneediness."