Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 22, Willa Cather’s “Going Home” and SELECTED LETTERS


Willa Cather (1873-1947) published her first volume of poems, April Twilights, in 1903, when she was still a young writer. Twenty years later, she revised it, cutting some poems and adding a number of new ones. Knopf was the publisher of April Twilights and Other Poems, which appeared in the spring of 1923. With the addition of “Going Home” and other poems like it, writes Robert Thacker in the introduction to a new Pocket Poets edition of the work, Cather “turned her face to the West, to the stuff of her own experience in her home place.” Meanwhile, this season sees the publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. As they attest, the letters, which have not been available to the public before, reveal their author to be “a complicated, funny, brilliant, flinty, sensitive, sometimes confounding human being.” Below the poem, we offer a letter that Cather wrote to a friend who reviewed the first edition of April Twilights.

Going Home
(Burlington Route)

How smoothly the trains run beyond the Missouri;
Even in my sleep I know when I have crossed
      the river.
The wheels turn as if they were glad to go;
The sharp curves and windings left behind,
The roadway wide open,
(The crooked straight
And the rough places plain.)

They run smoothly, they run softly, too.
There is not noise enough to trouble the lightest
Nor jolting to wake the weary-hearted.
I open my window and let the air blow in,
The air of morning,
That smells of grass and earth—
Earth, the grain-giver.

How smoothly the trains run beyond the Missouri;
Even in my sleep I know when I have crossed
      the river.
The wheels turn as if they were glad to go;
They run like running water,
Like Youth, running away . . .

They spin bright along the bright rails,
Singing and humming,
Singing and humming.
They run remembering,
They run rejoicing,
As if they, too, were going home.


April 28 [1903]

My Dear Mr. Seible;
      Certainly you are better at not forgetting old acquaintance than anyone I know. I could not at all tell you over the telephone how much I feel your good will in going into that review [of April Twilights] so heartily. Of course the appreciative tone of the notice will help the book, but it was not that which especially pleased me. There was a frank and friendly ring about it that put courage into me and made me feel equal to trying almost anything. Of course I am mighty glad that you like the verses, but I am much more pleased that you seem glad to like them, and that you blow upon me with such a friendly wind. Surely we can disprove Hesiod’s epigram that,

                        “Potter hates Potter,
                        and poet hates poet.”

      To tell you the truth, you have so often handled me severely in private apropos of some of those same verses that I rather expected chastisement and sunny clemency has quite taken my breath away.
      We shall expect you on Thursday night, and please come early, as soon after seven oclock as possible.

      Faithfully always
      Willa S. Cather

Learn more about April Twilights and Other Poems and The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, or browse other titles by Willa Cather.

Excerpt from APRIL TWILIGHTS AND OTHER POEMS © 1923 by Willa Cather; excerpt from THE SELECTED LETTERS OF WILLA CATHER © 2013 by The Willa Cather Literary Trust. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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