The Song of the Lark / by Willa Cather PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 December 2011 19:10

Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark is an often brilliant, fierce story that gets deep inside the heart and mind of a rare musical artist. Thea Kronborg, the stunning, singular heroine at the center of this book, (the third in what's often called Cather's "Prairie Trilogy" - O Pioneers! and My Antonia being the other two), has a deep well of passion and a frightening, confusing vulnerability. The story begins with Thea's near death from pneumonia at 10 years old and then follows her country childhood in the small town of Moonstone, just outside the rural sand hills of Colorado. The writing then deepens (as it does throughout My Antonia) when Thea shakes off the constraints of quotidian snipe-town life and seeks out vocal training in Chicago. These Chicago scenes show us the city in the early-20th century, but Cather's descriptions of the collection at the Art Institute and the choking airlessness of public transit could have been written today. Here we get deep inside the tightly wound and obsessively focused Thea and witness her spirit almost fall prey to a cynical teacher who would sap her gift out of envy, and mold her in his wizened image.

After Chicago, The Song of the Lark offers unforgettable scenes: A languid dance and starlit song in "Mexican Town" outside of Moonstone, a transcendent section in which Thea silently communes with herself in the stone cliff-dweller homes outside Tempe, AZ, and scenes of playful, young love.  Later sections describe sublime singing, the pursuit of truth in performance: "'There's the voice itself, so beautiful and individual, and then there's something else; the thing in it which responds to every shade of thought and feeling, spontaneously, almost unconsciously. That colour has to be born in a singer, it can't be acquired; lots of beautiful voices haven't a vestige of it. It's almost like another gift - the rarest of all. The voice simply is the mind and the heart.'"

Though the final 1/4 of the novel takes a turn I found strange and disappointing, this is a book for anyone who feels that voice deep within, one that compels one to create, and for anyone who wishes to read a rare story about a bold, unique young woman's journey toward art. (Jarrett, the Loft).

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