Willa Cather, fully Willa Sibert Cather
I doubt whether any contemporary writer has made one feel more keenly the many kinds of personal relations which exist in an everyday ?happy family? who are merely going on living their daily lives, with no crises or shocks or bewildering complications to try them. Yet every individual in that household (even the children) is clinging passionately to his individual soul, is in terror of losing it in the general family flavor. As in most families, the mere struggle to have anything of one?s own, to be one?s self at all, creates an element of strain which keeps everybody almost at the breaking-point.
In those simple relationships of loving husband and wife, affectionate sisters, children and grandmother, there are innumerable shades of sweetness and anguish which make up the pattern of our lives day by day, though they are not down in the list of subjects from which the conventional novelist works?
One realizes that even in harmonious families there is this double life: the group life, which is the one we can observe in our neighbor?s household, and, underneath, another ? secret and passionate and intense ? which is the real life that stamps the faces and gives character to the voices of our friends. Always in his mind each member of these social units is escaping, running away, trying to break the net which circumstances and his own affections have woven about him. One realizes that human relationships are the tragic necessity of human life; that they can never be wholly satisfactory, that every ego is half the time greedily seeking them, and half the time pulling away from them.
These secret accords and antipathies which lie hidden under our everyday behavior ? more than any outward events make our lives happy or unhappy.
The world is always full of brilliant youth which fades into grey and embittered middle age: the first flowering takes everything. The great men are those who have developed slowly, or who have been able to survive the glamour of their early florescence and to go on learning from life.
They were the kind of letters a young man writes to a woman when he wishes himself and his life to seem interesting to her, when he wishes to enlist her imagination in his behalf.
We must rest, he told himself, on our confidence in His design. Design was clear enough in the stars, the seasons, in the woods and fields. But in human affairs—? Perhaps our bewilderment came from a fault in our perceptions; we could never see what was behind the next turn of the road.
Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand -- a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods -- or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.
The world there was the flat world of the ancients; to the east, a cornfield that stretched to daybreak; to the west, a corral that reached to the sunset; between, the conquests of peace, dearer-bought than those of war.
Thirty or forty years ago, in one those grey towns along the Burlington railroad which are so much greyer to-day than they were then, there was a house well know from Omaha to Denver for its hospitality and for a certain charm of atmosphere.
We were at last in Monte Cristo's country, fairly into the country of the fabulous, where extravagance ceases to exist because everything is extravagant, and where the wildest dreams come true.
Yes, and because we grow old we become more and more the stuff our forbears put into us. I can feel his savagery strengthen in me. We think we are so individual and so misunderstood when we are young; but the nature our strain of blood carries is inside there, waiting, like our skeleton.
The years seemed to stretch before her like the land: spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring; always the same patient fields, the patient little trees, the patient lives; always the same yearning; the same pulling at the chain — until the instinct to live had torn itself and bled and weakened for the last time, until the chain secured a dead woman, who might cautiously be released.
This is reality, whether you like it or not--all those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.
What a thing it is to lie there all day in the fine breeze, with the pine needles dropping on one, only to return to the hotel at night so hungry that the dinner, however homely, is a fete, and the menu finer reading than the best poetry in the world! Yet we are to leave all this for the glare and blaze of Nice and Monte Carlo; which is proof enough that one cannot become really acclimated to happiness.
Yet the summer which was to change everything was coming nearer every day. When boys and girls are growing up, life can't stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and they have to grow up, whether they will or no. That is what their elders are always forgetting.
There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.
This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, and of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau. The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape.
What was any art but a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself-life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.
You are the only beautiful thing that has ever come close to me. You came line an angel out of the sky. You are like the music you sing, you are like the stars and the snow on the mountains where I played when I was a little boy. You are like all that they have killed in me. I die for you tonight, tomorrow, for all eternity. I am not a coward; I was afraid cause I love you more than Christ who died for me, more than I am afraid of hell, or hope for heaven. I was never afraid before.
There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.
This was the road over which Ántonia and I came on that night when we got off the train at Black Hawk and were bedded down in the straw, wondering children, being taken we knew not whither. I had only to close my eyes to hear the rumbling of the wagons in the dark, and to be again overcome by that obliterating strangeness. The feelings of that night were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I had the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man’s experience is. For Ántonia and for me, this had been the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.
What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself — life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?
You feel that, properly, Alexandra's house is the big-out-of-doors, and that it is in the soil that she expresses herself.
There is a popular superstition that "realism" asserts itself in the cataloguing of a great number of material objects, in explaining mechanical processes, the methods of operating manufactories and trades, and in minutely and unsparingly describing physical sensations. But is not realism, more than it is anything else, an attitude of mind on the part of the writer toward his material, a vague indication of the sympathy and candor with which he accepts, rather than chooses, his theme?