Poem 19: My Antonia

Whatever we had missed, we possessed,
together, the precious, the incommunicable past.

If you google this last line of Willa Cather’s
classic novel, you will find out that the book
it finishes – perfectly, flawlessly – is part of a
project called The Big Read. You will also find
the epigram for the book, from Virgil:
“The best days are the first to flee.”

So what if someone changed it to
“The best geese are the first to fly”?
It would still be a proper sentence,
but it wouldn’t say anything Cather
meant to say, not that she didn’t like geese.
Kind of like when NEA printed up thousands
of readers guides, just as they still have it on
their website, with “precious” changed
to “previous,” making Cather into mush.
Making The Big Read into a silly read, a
meaningless exercise in great literature,
asking what it’s worth if we muck it up
with auto-correct and don’t bother to
fix it? Pardon this rant, but it should be
on record, somewhere, that the last sentence
of My Antonia was beautiful, and perfect,
and not to be tampered with. Amen.

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