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 Ántonia

One comment

  1. 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”

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