19 August 2011

from True at First Light (Ernest Hemingway)

'Everybody was so serious,' Miss Mary said. 'I never saw all of you joke people get so serious.'

'Honey, it would have been awful if I had had to kill her. And I was worried about you.'

'Everybody so serious,' she said. 'And everybody holding on to my arm. I knew how to get back to the car. Nobody had to hold on to my arm.'


The day after a heavy rain is a splendid day for the propagation of religion while the time of the rain itself seems to turn men's minds from the beauty of their faith. All rain had stopped now and I was sitting by the fire drinking tea and looking out over the sodden country. Miss Mary was still sleeping soundly because there was no sun to wake her. Mwindi came to the table by the fire with a fresh pot of hot tea and poured me a cup.

'Plenty rain,' he said. 'Now finished.'

'Mwindi,' I said. 'You know what the Mahdi said. "We see plainly in the laws of nature that rain comes down from the heavens in the time of need. The greenness and verdure of the earth depend upon heavenly rain. If it ceases for a time the water in the upper strata of the earth gradually dries up. Thus we see that there is an attraction between the heavenly and the earthly waters. Revelation stands in the same relation to human reason as heavenly water does to the earthly water."'

'Too much rain for campi. Plenty good for Shamba,' Mwindi announced.

'"As with the cessation of heavenly water earthly water begins gradually to dry up; so also is the case of the human reason which without the heavenly revelation loses its purity and strength."'

'How I know that is Mahdi?' Mwindi said.

'Ask Charo.'

Mwindi grunted. He knew Charo was very devout but not a theologian.


Miss Mary was writing a great poem about Africa but the trouble was that she made it up in her head sometimes and forgot to write it down and then it would be gone like dreams. She wrote some of it down but she would not show it to anybody. We all had great faith in her poem about Africa and I still have but I would like it better if she would actually write it. We were all reading the Georgics then in the C. Day Lewis translation. We had two copies but they were always being lost or mislaid and I have never known a book to be more mis-layable. The only fault I could ever find with the Mantovan was that he made all normally intelligent people feel as though they too could write great poetry. Dante only made crazy people feel they could write great poetry. That was not true of course but then almost nothing was true and especially not in Africa. In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.


That night Mary said she was very tired and she went to sleep in her own bed. I lay awake for a while and then went out to sit by the fire. In the chair watching the fire and thinking of Pop and how sad it was he was not immortal and how happy I was that he had been able to be with us so much and that we had been lucky to have three or four things together that were like the old days along with just the happiness of being together and talking and joking, I went to sleep.

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