A Wagner Matinée


Willa Cather

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Water Symbol Icon

Cather uses water to symbolize the renewal of dormant life, especially the revival of Georgianas soul. Not incidentally, Cather frequently associates water with music, further underscoring the latter as a source of meaning for Georgiana. During the concert, for instance, the violin bows “drove obliquely downward, like the pelting streaks of rain in a summer shower,” as Clark wonders whether his aunt is receptive to the power of such music after so many years removed from the cultural scene. Soon after, he first notices tears on Georgiana’s cheeks and reflects on the resilience of the suffering soul, which, like moss, “can lie on a dusty shelf half a century and yet, if placed in water, grows green again.” Georgianas soul appeared to have lain almost lifeless for lack of access to music, but as soon as it is immersed in a cultured environment once again, it responds immediately with heartfelt emotion. Her weeping grows in volume and intensity throughout the concert, until it is like “a shallow vessel [that] overflows in a rainstorm—the renewal of emotion evoked by the music is almost more than she can bear. Like her tears, the music is a “deluge of sound” that “poured on and on,” relentless but also potentially dangerous in its persistence. Clark does not know what Georgiana “found in the shining current of it” or “past what happy islands” it bore her—perhaps it led her past joyful memories of her earlier career—though he believes it carried her “into the grey, nameless burying grounds of the sea” where hopes and dreams sleep, and she, too, must finally put to rest the part of herself that has been awakened by the concert. Only after the music subsides does Georgiana burst into full tears, pleading that she doesn’t want to go back to the homestead. Thus, Cathers association of water and music carries Georgiana from the concerts ambiguous beginning to its cathartic end. While water symbolizes the bringing to life of Georgiana’s soul, it also has an overwhelming, potentially drowning effect, shown by the fact that she is overcome with sorrow over abandoned hopes.

Water Quotes in A Wagner Matinée

The A Wagner Matinée quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Wagner Matinée published in 1992.
A Wagner Matinee Quotes

The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that before the last number she had been carried out where the myriad graves are, into the grey, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Water Symbol Timeline in A Wagner Matinée

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in A Wagner Matinée. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Wagner Matinee
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
During the “Prize Song,” Clark notices that there are tears on Georgiana’s cheeks and that she continues to weep throughout the melody. Clark realizes that... (full context)
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
During the second half of the concert, Georgiana weeps continuously, “as a shallow vessel overflows in a rain-storm.” “The deluge” of Wagner’s Ring “poured... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...a winter cornfield.” Georgiana remains seated, however, and when prompted by Clark, she bursts into tears and pleads, “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go!” (full context)