Sunday, April 18, 2021

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It struck me as I was finishing this book that Willa Cather loves the land more than any human being. I don't mean this as a criticism. Her writing is its most luminous when describing a landscape or the elements. Her most empathetic depictions of people are often tinged with a sense of the timelessness of the natural world. People who live in tune with nature are the heroes of her novels, although they often suffer at the hands of their fellow humans as well as the world they inhabit. Still, they return to the land that sustains them as no other person can. 

Father Latour had used to feel a little ashamed that Joseph kept his sister and her nuns so busy making cassocks and vestments for him; but the last time he was in France he came to see all this in another light... "Look," she said, "after the Mother has read us one of those letters from her brother, I come and stand in this alcove and look up our little street with its one lamp, and just beyond the turn there is New Mexico; all that he has written us of those red deserts and blue mountains, the great plains and the herds of bison, and the canyons more profound than our deepest mountain gorges. I can feel that I am there, my heart beats faster, and it seems but a moment until the retiring-bell cuts short my dreams." (pg. 181)

Nothing one could say of Father Vaillant explained him. The man was much greater than the sum of his qualities. He added a glow to whatever kind of human society he was dropped down into. A Navajo hogan, some abjectly poor little huddle of Mexican huts, or a company of Monsignori and Cardinals at Rome--it was all the same. (pg. 227)

Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. (pg. 232)

In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry "To-day, to-day," like a child's. (pg. 272)

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