Words and Pictures: A Lost Lady

He did not think of these books as something invented to beguile the idle
hour, but as living creatures, caught in the very behaviour of living,
— surprised behind their misleading severity of form and phrase. He was
eavesdropping upon the past, being let into the great world that had
plunged and glittered and sumptuously sinned long before little Western
towns were dreamed of.

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady (1923)

Image: Man Reading by John Singer Sargent

Literary Pilgrimages: Willa Cather’s grave site

On a bleak winter afternoon in early December, I set out to find Willa Cather’s grave at the Old Meeting House in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. By her own wish, the author was laid to rest near the site where she had often spent the autumn months and worked on many of her novels, including My Antonia.

After a few mishaps due to my confusion of the towns of Jaffrey and Jaffrey Center, and the total lack of signage identifying the Meeting House (yes, this is New England — if you don’t already know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be here), I found the magnificent old building and its small burying ground that looks out onto a view of Mount Monadnock.

The oldest marked grave on this site dates from 1777, and many of the stones are centuries old. Often tall and narrow, they lean at odd angles in the frost-humped ground.

Willa Cather’s grave stands alone in a corner, facing away from the meeting house and toward the mountain (as most of the gravestones do). The stone has weathered quite a bit in the past sixty-odd years, and the inscription was not easy to read in the dim light.

According to a sign near the entrance, the grave of Cather’s companion Edith Lewis was very nearby, but I didn’t see a stone. I took a guess at the location and scraped away some snow, and there it was.

Just as I was about to leave, a ray of sun broke through the clouds as the Meeting House clock tolled two, and the words on the stone were illuminated.


December 7, 1876-April 24, 1947
The truth and charity of her great
spirit will live on in the work
which is her enduring gift to her
country and her people.
“…that is happiness, to be dissolved
into something complete and great.”
From My Antonia


This still-unspoiled spot seems an appropriate resting place for Willa Cather, surrounded as it is by great natural beauty while also bearing witness to centuries of human striving and endeavor. I’m so glad that I finally made the pilgrimage to view it, and hope to return again to experience its peaceful spirit through the changing seasons.

Posted in honor of Willa Cather Reading Week, hosted by Heavenali 

Click here to view images of Cather in Jaffrey from the Willa Cather Archive
More information on Cather in Jaffrey, from the Willa Cather Archive