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"He knew the end too well to wish to begin again."

I admire this moving passage from the early pages of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. John Bergson is slowly dying, at home in the arid high plains of Nebraska, where he has carved out only a meager existence for his wife and four children, particularly for his beloved daughter Alexandra.
The winter twilight was fading. The sick man heard his wife strike a match in the kitchen, and the light of a lamp glimmered through the cracks of the door. It seemed like a light shining far away. He turned painfully in his bed and looked at his white hands, with all the work gone out of them. He was ready to give up, he felt. He did not know how it had come about, but he was quite willing to go deep under his fields and rest, where the plow could not find him. He was tired of making mistakes. He was content to leave the tangle to other hands; he thought of his Alexandra's strong ones.

"Dotter," he called feebly, "Dotter!" He heard her quick step and saw her tall figure appear in the doorway, with the light of the lamp behind her. He felt her youth and strength, how easily she moved and stooped and lifted. But he would not have had it again if he could, not he! He knew the end too well to wish to begin again. He knew where it all went to, what it all became.
It's striking to read Bergson's wish to be buried, not in a traditional cemetery, but deep beneath the fields he has fought for so long to cultivate. As if admitting that the land had ultimately defeated him.

October 8, 2015 in Books | Permalink

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