Cornfields and the heat of July – My Ántonia

Almost two years ago in this post I shared my love of Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. I hoped it would be the first of a few posts in which I would share a paragraph or so from the book. Following is the passage I’d planned to put up next; various events slowed down that project, not the least of which has been the disappearance of my copy. But I eventually borrowed one from the library. (Sad to say, my branch, though it is the most used in our whole county system, doesn’t own a hard copy. I’m sure they did at one time; it must have been someone who’d never read it who decided to discard it.)

I leafed through half the novel to find this part that I have been keeping in mind, and in many places I wanted to stop a while and visit with Ántonia and my other friends whom I seem to have been missing all these months. My sojourns with them are my only experience of Nebraska, and I don’t know much about corn otherwise, either.

July came on with that breathless, brilliant heat which makes the plains of Kansas and Nebraska the best corn country in the world. It seemed as if we could hear the corn growing in the night; under the stars one caught a faint crackling in the dewy, heavy-odored cornfields where the feathered stalks stood so juicy and green. If all the great plain from the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains had been under glass, and the heat regulated by a thermometer, it could not have been better for the yellow tassels that were ripening and fertilizing each other day by day.

The cornfields were far apart in those times, with miles of wild grazing land between. It took a clear, meditative eye like my grandfather’s to foresee that they would enlarge and multiply until they would be, not the Shimerdas’ cornfields, or Mr. Bushy’s, but the world’s cornfields; that their yield would be one of the great economic facts, like the wheat crop of Russia, which underlie all the activities of men, in peace or war.

-Willa Cather, in My ­Ántonia

11 thoughts on “Cornfields and the heat of July – My Ántonia

  1. This is a wonderful book. And I also love her Death Comes for the Archbishop. But I must admit I’m sure it’s more than 20 years since I’ve read either. Ohio is big corn country too, though not the enormous fields I’ve seen in Nebraska.

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  2. I hope you find your copy. I found mine when I was moving books. It is one of my favorites too. I love your quote. What a pretty cornfield too. I have always wanted to hear corn grow.

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  3. The corn fields in South Dakota and Nebraska right now are “high as an elephant’s eye.” They’ve had the heat and the rain in perfect measure. Another author you might enjoy is Bess Streeter Aldrich who wrote many books about the Nebraska prairie life. One of my favorite authors.

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  4. We used to live in western Minnesota where cornfields like these stretched for miles. I must look into My Antonia!

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  5. If you have a Kindle you can get a copy free on Amazon. I just downloaded it. 🙂 I prefer paper books, but I grab a free one when I can.

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  6. I love that book. I read it when we lived in Iowa; it was a gift from a good friend. There was one passage in the book that stuck like a horrible glue in my mind, and 20 years later, it remained while the rest of the book’s plot had faded. It’s the story that the two Russian men tell about the wedding journey in Russia that they were involved in…. it took me FOREVER to remember which book it came from, and to find it again. Do you recall that part? Gives me the shivers, but it is quite effectively written.

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    1. Mary Kathryn, no one would forget that part of the book, even if, as you did, they forget where they read it — but for the sake of my readers who have not read the novel yet, I edited your comment to remove the spoiler. 🙂

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  7. I grew up in the middle of Iowa cornfields. When conditions are right, it’s entirely possible to hear the corn grow: no “as if” about it. I’ve heard it many times, and it’s as much a part of my memories of Iowa as the robins’ song.

    As wonderful as the green and growing corn can be, the desiccated autumn fields have their own charm. I used to glean the fields after harvest, collected ears of field corn to feed the squirrels over the winter.

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  8. I read this book many years back, and it is the book that created in me a thirst for Willa Cather’s books. I believe it might be time to revisit.

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