Lisa tagged me to do an entry about my love (passion) for reading. While I’m working on that, here is the opening passage from one of my favorite books, Cry the Beloved Country. It was written in the late forties by an English South African, Alan Paton. If you have a love of the land this may be one the saddest things you’ll ever read.
A note some of the words. Ixopo is the name of a village. The x is pronounced with a ck sound. The veld is an open plain. The pronunciation is almost like fvelt. A kloof is a steep sided gully or small valley. The tithoya is a small bird like a plover and the name sounds like the birds’ call. Ingeli, Umzimkulu and Griqueland are pronounced pretty much as they are spelled. The style in this novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s almost as if someone is writing down a spoken story. It probably breaks half the rules of conventional writing and that may be why I love it so much. The book is about people, the land, love, loss, forgiveness and acceptance.
So, here goes.
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is not mist, you can look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the tithoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea: and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqueland.
The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.
Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires haveburned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here any more.
The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lighting flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away; the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.
Alan Paton, 1948
2 days ago