Quote from “The Song of the Lark” by Willa Cather

Quote from “The Song of the Lark” by Willa Cather

“One morning, as she was standing upright in the pool, splashing water between her shoulder-blades with a big sponge, something flashed through her mind that made her draw herself up and stand still until the water had quite dried upon her flushed skin. The stream and the broken pottery: what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould 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?  The Indian women had held it in their jars.  In the sculpture she had seen in the Art Institute, it had been caught in a flash of arrested motion.  In singing, one made a vessel of one’s throat and nostrils and held it on one’s breath, caught the stream in a scale of natural intervals.”

The Song of the Lark is a coming of age story, titled after a painting, and about a country girl who becomes an opera singer in the early 20th century.  Along the way she has the epiphany quoted above while camping in some cliff dwellings in Arizona.  It serves as one of the turning points in her pathway to artistic maturity.  The Song of the Lark was interesting to me from the thematic standpoint of musical and artistic development, innate talent vs. hard work, pretensions vs. genuineness, and the sacrifice required to succeed.  In the end she is able to break through her previous artistic limits and realize her vocal potential in a performance at the Met. Her former teacher sums it up: “‘Her secret?  It is every artist’s secret’—he waved his hand—‘passion.  That is all.  It is an open secret, and perfectly safe.  Like heroism, it is inimitable in cheap materials.'”


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