Reading can bring back memories, help to understand oneself with respect to the past, the present, and even give direction in life. It can stimulate the imagination and desire to create outside of a story, and make one’s own stories. “The Song of the Lark” strikes many such chords for me. Through Cather’s quiet introspective narrative tone, we watch the character, Thea Kronborg, grow into herself.
In Part II of the novel, Thea, with the encouragement of Doctor Archie, goes to Chicago to complete her musical education. While she takes piano lessons from Mr. Harsanyi, a Hungarian immigrant, she simultaneously sings in a choir for a church. Only by accident does Mr. Harsanyi discover that Thea is also a singer, possessing a beautiful, but untrained voice.
Life for Thea in the city takes on an aspect of drudgery and loneliness, feelings she never experienced growing up in Moonstone. She is the daughter of a Swedish minister and nonjudgmental mother, who believes in the power of fate. Back in Moonstone, Thea was a free-spirited girl, who carried around with her ‘under the cheek’ that inexplicable sense of innate happiness. Now in Chicago, that feeling has since dissipated, and been replaced by the routine of her music practice, and daily living.
One scene which recalls a memory for me is described in the opening passage of Chapter V, Part II:
By the first of February Thea had been in Chicago almost four months, and she did not know much more about the city than if she had never quitted Moonstone. She was, as Harsanyi said, incurious. Her work took most of her time, and she found that she had to sleep a good deal. It had never before been so hard to get up in the morning. She had the bother of caring for her room and she had to build her fire and bring up her coal. Her routine was frequently interrupted by a message from Mr. Larson summoning her to sing at a funeral. Every funeral took half a day, and the time had to be made up. When Mrs. Harsanyi asked her if it did not depress her to sing at funerals, she replied that she ‘had been brought up to go to funerals and didn’t mind’.
It’s this last scene that struck home with me, because I too was brought up going to funerals, to sing the Requiem. You see, the school I went to was attached to the Catholic Church. The best part of each classroom were the very large windows that looked out onto the grass and swing sets. The children could also watch the cars that drove by on the driveway, as they circled the school and the church. When there was a funeral the procession with the hearse and all the cars filled with mourning family members would also go by. This was our indication to go into the church and sing. We went to Mass every morning anyway, and sang in Latin, but when someone died, it was different. It was a solemn time, and we had to show the greatest respect.
Like Thea, going to sing for a funeral was not a task of drudgery, and even though I look back and realize it wasn’t what most normal children had to do, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed singing, that much, and looking at the beautiful stained glass windows inside the church. Similarly to Thea, these frequent interruptions to go sing at a funeral, were a real part of my school day life. As school children, it was our place to attend to the matter, give our voices to the sad family, and then get on with life. We learned to take the good, with the bad, and the sad, with the happy, and always had that something under our cheek to keep us company, even if it seemed to step out for awhile.
Although, I haven’t finished the story yet, I imagine that Thea has a lot of growing to do, that she will have to struggle even more; But if I know Willa Cather, her heroine will overcome, whatever steps in her way. Thea will undoubtedly be rewarded for her struggle, and be resurrected to an even more dignified level of being.