September 11, 2009

The propitiatory intent

Years afterward, when the open-grazing days were over, and the red grass had been ploughed under and under until it had almost disappeared from the prairie; when all the fields were under fence, and the roads no longer ran about like wild things, but followed the surveyed section-lines, Mr. Shimerda's grave was still there, with a sagging wire fence around it, and an unpainted wooden cross. As grandfather had predicted, Mrs. Shimerda never saw the roads going over his head. The road from the north curved a little to the east just there, and the road from the west swung out a little to the south; so that the grave, with its tall red grass that was never mowed, was like a little island; and at twilight, under a new moon or the clear evening star, the dusty roads used to look like soft gray rivers flowing past it. I never came upon the place without emotion, and in all that country it was the spot most dear to me. I loved the dim superstition, the propitiatory intent, that had put the grave there; and still more I loved the spirit that could not carry out the sentence — the error from the surveyed lines, the clemency of the soft earth roads along which the home-coming wagons rattled after sunset. Never a tired driver passed the wooden cross, I am sure, without wishing well to the sleeper.

—Willa Cather, My √Āntonia

1 comment:

Ben.H said...

The hill slopes away,
then rises in the middleground,
you remember, with a grove of gnarled
maples centering the bare pasture,
sacred, surely -- for what reason?
I cannot say? Idyllic!
a shrine cinctured there by
the trees, a certainty of music!
a unison and a dance, joined
at this death's festival: Something
of a shed snake's skin, the beginning
goldenrod. Or, best, a white stone,
you have seen it: Mathilda Maria
-- and near the ground's lip,
all but undecipherable, Aet Suae
Anno 9
-- still there, the grass
dripping of last night's rain -- and
welcome! The thin air, the near,
clear brook water! -- and could not,
and died, unable; to escape
what the air and the wet grass --
through which, tomorrow, bejeweled,
the great sun will rise -- the
unchanging mountains, forced on them --
and they received, willingly!
Stones, stones of a difference
joining the others, at pace. Hear!
Hear the unison of their voices...

William Carlos Williams, "A Unison"