I didn’t read Cry, The Beloved Country until I was over fifty. I had certainly heard of it, and I remember seeing it on my parents’ bookshelf when I was growing up (I was intrigued by the poetic title!), but I never got around to actually reading it. Finally, a few years ago, my book club chose this book for our monthly read (on my suggestion). I didn’t really know what to expect from it. I knew the book was a ‘modern classic’ and was about South Africa during Apartheid, but that was it. And then I read the first two paragraphs:
“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 no mist, you 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 titihoya, 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 Griqualand.
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 strings 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.”
And I stopped – stunned by the sheer beauty of the words and the imagery. I read it again. And again. I think I actually closed the book and just sat there for a few minutes, absorbing what I had just read. It was the most beautiful prose I’d ever read (still is).
“These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”
That is just so beautiful and says so much! The imagery is certainly wonderful – that you can’t even compose a song that is as lovely as these hills. But it’s more that just the imagery – it’s how it’s worded: “…they are lovely beyond any singing of it.” That phrase is nearly a song in itself. It just makes my heart ache with joy to read it! And if you really want to experience the full beauty of that phrase, listen to the audio book version of it, spoken in a lilting South African accent! It is a phrase that has certainly stuck with me, and what I think of whenever I think of the book.
If you have never read the book, I urge you to do so! The story is beautiful and heartbreaking and life-affirming. The writing style is as lovely and poetic as the opening, and it almost mesmerizes you. If you read it, I’m sure you will find a line or two that speaks to your heart and soul, as deeply as “These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it” touched mine.