March 19, 2015

Literary Idolatry

The New York Times writes today of the discovery of the bones of Cervantes and the hold that the burial places of famous writers have on people. I'm one of those who have made a number of literary pilgrimages and hope to make a number more—I've recently learned that Willa Cather was born close to a route I travel frequently and that Hart Crane, who grew up in my hometown, is buried close to that same route. The Times muses

Perhaps this literary idolatry is in some sense related to the medieval pilgrimages: those who stand before the mortal remains of a great poet may feel they are receiving the grace of an immortal talent. More likely it is something as simple as paying respects to someone whose art has contributed beauty and wisdom to one’s own life.

Whatever the reason, we should be glad that Cervantes’ mortal remains have been found, and that they can now be ensconced in a proper monument. That may be a proper place to quote the writer’s own words from the prologue he wrote to his final novel, when he knew he was dying: “Farewell, waggish jokes; farewell, wittiness; farewell, merry friends, for I am dying and longing soon to see you, happy in the life to come."

There may have been times when I wistfully hoped for inspiration or talent, but my chief feelings at a notable burial place have always been appreciation and respect.

(Incidentally, the Times blog on end-of-life issues recently introduced a series on grave hopping with a piece about visiting Le Corbusier's grave.)