1925 – 1939
The Summer of 1926
Pasternak - Tsvetaeva - Rilke
This long chapter is devoted to the correspondence between Rilke and Tsvetaeva.
Because of the copyright status of the letters this chapter is protected,
its text should not be copied.
Marina and her children
arrived in Paris and moved in with the Chernovs in November 1925.
Sergey joined them after Christmas. The Chernovs' was only a spacious
three-room apartment, but it had central heating, a gas stove, and a
bathroom! The Chernovs had three adult daughters and the place was
crowded - but Marina had not lived in such luxury for years if ever.
They helped each other, the atmosphere was congenial and harmonious.
All five Chernovs were published writers.
Marina was still nursing Murg, nevertheless she managed to work extremely hard. By February she had finished two articles, “The Poet on the Critic” and “Flower Garden”, both biting reviews of the expatriat literary scene. She had met the writer Dimitry P. Svyatopolk-Mirsky, one of the founders of the Eurasia Movement in France, who encouraged her and facilitated the publication of these pieces.
Her literary criticism hit Paris and eventually Moscow like a bomb. No other work of hers was greeted by such a storm of indignation. The expatriate community and some writers in Moscow accused her of being a Bolshevik, and the Soviet sympathizers of being a hopeless bourgeois romantic, a “hysterical young woman”. In actualty the upheaval came down to her having offended a number of expatriate writers in France by exposing their sedate sloppyness and their unjust criticism of writers still in Russia. This is not the place to examine these pieces [see VS p.261-273]. They are dated today and only of interest to literary historians. Marina never replied to these attacks, they were below her level. Tsvetaeva's poetry lives, while the exposed victims are rightfully forgotten. But this backlash explains some of the hatred against Tsvetaeva, which after two generations still abounds especially in France.
The original reason of their visit, Marina giving her first poetry reading since Moscow, had to wait until February 1926: A trio played Italian songs. The evening exeeded all expectations. “Marina read about 40 poems. The hall was overcrowded, people were standing outside,” wrote Sergey full of enthusiasm and continued, “Since this evening the number of her ill-wishers has expanded considerably. Other poets and prose writers are full of indignation....”
However, Marina had earned enough money to take her children to the seaside. [VS p.263] In April 1926 they moved to the small fishing village of St. Gilles-sur-Vie in the Vendée between Nantes and La Rochelle. After the cramped apartment in the industrial 19th arrondissiment of Paris she was longing for nature and quietude. Sergey, involved in various publishing ventures and political work, remained in Paris.
Her six months in St. Gilles will forever be connected with the unrequieted meeting of Tsvetaeva and Rilke. Their letters are an extraordinary document of European literature. Two poets explore the paths of poetry to the Empyrean. A sacred delirium between two people in rare resonance with each other. Pasternak made the connection between Rilke and Marina, but because of the vagaries of the mail system and Marina's possessiveness was largely excluded from the exchange. Rilke infinitely kind-hearted, not telling that he is very ill, feels himself being transported back to his “Russian Soul” and the memory of the Russia of Lou Andreas-Salomé. And an exalted Marina drives their fiery chariot beyond all limits to a final apotheosis: Rilke's death in December 1926, - unforseen by either Pasternak or Marina.
While Rilke's kindness approaches on being charitable with his impestuous correspondent, Marina's letters are not flattering to her. She exposes many of her less pleasant personae which are otherwise hidden in her poetry. While her inability to sense the extent of Rilke's terminal illness can be explained by circumstances, her egocentricity is difficult to excuse.
This correspondence has only recently surfaced. I shall quote only the letters exchanged between Rilke and Marina. In attempting this, I see myself faced with the anguishing task of having to excise portions from their letters for space reasons. I have not excised Marina's self-centered passages! I can only hope that I will be forgiven for both my indulgences and my omissions. All texts have been copied from [PTR], the below referenced book, where the unabridged versions can be found in reasonable English translations.
This correspondence was published in German in 1983. Viktoria Schweitzer refers to it only in her bibliography. An English translation, Letters, Summer 1926, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, Rainer Maria Rilke” (2002), referred to by me as [PTR] is easily obtainable as a paperback. (I bought an unread (sic!) second-hand copy for $6.75 through Amazon). A limited preview of the book can be examined at Amazon - less their letters!.
The letters between Tsvetaeva and Rilke were written in German. As was her custom with most of what she wrote, some of her letters to Rilke she first jotted down in her notebooks. A number of these are now available in Russian as Tsvetaevas letters to Rilke.
Their meeting was based on a chain of coincidences as can only happen between people with Russian souls: In 1900 Boris Pasternak's father Leonid had befriended the young, still unknown Rilke on his second sojourn with Lou Andreas-Salomé to Russia. When in December 1925 all the world celebrated Rilke's 50th birthday, Leonid, now living in Berlin, had written the famous poet a long, humble letter, in which he had mentioned Boris. Three months later, Leonid's letter had to be forwarded by the publisher to Rilke in a Swiss sanatorium, Leonid received an equally long, handwritten reply from Rilke in German and Russian! In a postscript Rilke mentioned that he had just read a French translation of “several impressive poems by Boris Pasternak in a literary journal edited by Paul Valéry.”
A personal letter from the famous poet! Leonid informed Boris, who had remained in Moscow with his family, of Rilkes praise, but the precious letter had first to be copied by one of Boris' sisters. Boris received a transcription only weeks later. He had been in a deep depression, which Marina had tried to unravel during the past year. And now this accolade from the “greatest living poet!” A bolt from the blue! Impestuous, he composed a letter to Rilke: “Great, most beloved poet!” followed by six pages of effusive enthusiasm, “...and now I feel like I am reborn!...” Toward the end he asked Rilke to send a copy of his Duino Elegies, to Marina Tsvetaeva, “my greatest and probably only friend, who shares my love for you...” He had to send the letter via his father. Since Lenin's departure, there existed no postal services or diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Russia.
Rilke responded to Boris' request with surprising speed. On May 7, 1926 Marina received a letter from Rilke; his Dunio Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus arrived a day later.
Marina was so excited that she “forgot” to mail Rilke's note to Boris which caused him great anguish. She wrote Rilke by return mail, even postdating her letter. Her forward style is remarkable.
May 9, 1926
Rainer Maria Rilke!
May I call you like this? You, poetry incarnate, must know, after all, that your very name is a poem. Rainer Maria, that sounds churchly - and kindly - and chivalrous. Your name does not rhyme with our time, stems from earlier or later - has always been. Your name willed it so, and you chose the name.
You are not my dearest poet ("dearest" - a level), you are a phenomenon of nature, which cannot be mine and which one does not so much love as undergo, - or (still too little) the fifth element incarnate: poetry itself - or (still too little) that whence poetry comes to be and which is greater than it (you). It isn't a question of Rilke the person (personhood: that which is forced upon us!), but of Rilke the spirit, who is still greater than the poet and who is what really bears the name of Rilke to me, the Rilke of the day after tomorrow... across all that distance.
What is still left for a poet to do after you? A master (like Goethe, e.g.) one overcomes, but to overcome you means (would mean) to overcome poetry itself. A poet is he who - overcomes life (is to overcome it). You are an impossible task for future poets. The poet who comes after you must be you, i.e., you must be born again. You give to words their first sense, and to things their first words. E.g., when you say "magnificent" you say "wreaking great things," as it was meant to mean originally (now "magnificent" is no more than a hollow exclamation mark of sorts). I might have said all this to you more clearly in Russian, but I don't want to give you the trouble of reading your way into it, I would rather take the trouble of writing my way into it.
The first thing in your letter that hurled me up the tallest tower of joy (not lifted, not placed) was the word May, [spelled “Mai” in modern German] the old nobility of which you restored with that y-spelling. Mai with an i - brings to mind the first of May, not the workers' holiday - no, the tame May of the bourgeoisie - of engaged and (not overly) enamored couples.
A few short biographical notes (only necessary ones): from the Russian Revolution (not revolutionary Russia; the revolution is a country with its own - eternal - laws!) I went - by way of Berlin - to Prague, and your books went with me. In Prague I read for the first time Early Poems. Thus did Prague become dear to me - on the first day - because of your having been a student there. I remained in Prague from 1922 to 1925, three years; in November 1925, I went to Paris. Were you still there? In case you were there: Why didn't I come to you? Because you are the dearest thing to me in the whole world. Quite simply. And - because you don't know me. From injured pride, out of reverence for chance (fate, the same thing). From - cowardice, perhaps, that I'd have to endure your alien glance - on the threshold of your room. (What could your glance at me have been if not alien! It would have been a glance meant for anybody, after all, since you didn't know me! - and thus alien after all!) One more thing: I will always be a Russian woman in your perception; you in mine - a purely human (divine) phenomenon. This is the difficulty about our too individualistic nationalities: all what is inside us, is called "Russian" by the Europeans....
...I am waiting for your books as for a thunderstorm that will come whether I want it or not. Almost like a heart operation (no metaphor! Every poem (of yours) cuts into the heart and carves it according to its knowledge - whether I want it to or not). No wanting! Do you know why I say Du to you and love you - and – and - and, because you are a force. The rarest thing. You don't have to answer me; I know what time is and what a poem is. I also know what a letter is. So there....
What do I want from you, Rainer? Nothing. - Everything. That you should allow me to spend every moment of my life looking up at you as at a mountain that protects me (one of those guardian angels of stone!). Before I knew you, it was all right; now that I know you, permission is needed.
For my soul is well-bred.
I am going to write to you though, whether you want it or not. About your Russian characters (e.g., your Czars cycle). About a lot of things. Those Russian characters of yours. How touching they are! - I, who never cries, like a Red Indian, I was almost ready to. I read your letter at the ocean; the ocean was reading along with me. We were both reading. I wonder if such a fellow reader troubles you. There won't be any others: I'm much too jealous (zealous - where you are concerned). Here are my books - you don't have to read them.-.put them on your desk and take my word that they were not there be fore me (by this I mean in the world, not on the desk!).
May 10, 1926
Do you know how I got your books today (on the tenth)? The children were still asleep (seven in the morning), I suddenly got up and ran to the door. At the same moment - I had my hand on the door handle, the postman knocked - right into my hand. I merely had to end my door-opening movement and from the same still rapping hand received the books. I haven't opened them yet, for if I did this letter wouldn't go off today - and it has to fly.
Switzerland won't let any Russians in. But the mountains will have to move (or split!) so that Boris and I can come to you! I believe in mountains. (This line, in my altered version - which after all is not an altered one - for mountains and nights rhyme - you recognize it, don't you?)
The letter is
post-marked May 8. By dating her letter to the 10th, the date
Tsvetayeva assumed Rilke would receive it, she must have tried to
cancel out the time and space that separated them. A little later she
sent him her “Poems
to Alexander Blok” (1921) and “Psyche:
A Romance” (1923) in Russian with her annotations in
Their letters followed each other like a torrent. Still on on the same day, a delighted Rilke takes her up on her little lie.
Val-Mont par Glion (Vaud) Suisse
May 10, 1926
Were you not here just now after all? Or where was I? It is still the tenth of May - and, strange thing, Marina, Марина, that was the date you wrote the concluding lines of your letter (cast forward into time, forward into the timeless moment when I was to read you)! On the tenth you thought you were receiving my books at the turning of a door (as one turns pages in a book)...; on the same tenth, today, in the eternal today of the spirit, today, Marina, I received you in my soul, in my whole consciousness, which trembles before you, before your coming, as though your great fellow reader, the ocean, had come breaking over me with you, heart's flood.
What to tell you?
You have held your hands, Marina, by turns extended and folded, in my heart as in the basin under a flowing spring: now, as long as you hold them there, the diverted flow spills over to you... let it be.
What to say: all my words (as though they had been in your letter, as if facing a staged scene), all my words want to go out to you at the same time; none of them lets another pass. When people crowd one another as they leave the theater, isn't it because, after having so much presence offered to them, they cannot bear the curtain? Thus I find it hard to bear the closed-up-again quality of your letter (once more, yet one more time!). But look, even the curtain is comforting: next to your beautiful name, next to this enchanting St.-Gilles - sur-vie (survie!), somebody has written a large flattersome blue "seven" (like this: 7!), the seven, my number of blessing.
The atlas was opened (for geography is not a science to me but a relationship that is immediately applied) and, presto, you have been entered there, Marina, on my internal map: between Moscow and Toledo somewhere I have made room for the onthrust of your ocean. In reality, though, you look at the Ile d'Yeu with the Pointe de Corbeau facing you.... And Ariadne (how big might she be now, how high up does she reach on you?) looks out with you, and... "children," you say, "die Kinder," in the plural? And yet in 1903, while I was trying to come to terms with Rodin, you were still a little girl yourself, whom I'm shortly going to look for in Lausanne. (Oh, how should I see you?)
You, poet, do you sense how you have overwhelmed me, you and your magnificent fellow reader; I'm writing like you and I descend like you the few steps down from the sentence into the mezzanine of parentheses, where the ceilings are so low and where it smells of roses past that never cease.
Marina: how I have inhabited your letter. And what an astonishing thing when the die of your word, with the score already called, fell by a further step, showing the complementary number, the final (often still larger) one. A force of Nature, you dear one, that which stands behind the fifth element, inciting and gathering it?... And I for my part felt again as though through you, Nature had assented to me, an entire garden of affirmation around a spring. Around what else? Around a sundial? How you overgrow and overwaft me with your word-summer's tall phlox.
But, you say, it is not a matter of Rilke the person. I, too, am at odds with him, with his body, with which such pure communication had always been possible that I often did not know which produced poems more happily: It, - I, - the two of us? (Soles of the feet, blithe as often they were, blissful with walking across everything, across earth, blissful with primal knowing, pre-knowing, complicity of awareness beyond knowing itself!) And now dis-cord, doubly-cored, soul clad one way, body mummed another, different. In this sanatorium ever since December, but not quite allowing the doctor in, into the only relationship between self and self that can stand no mediator (no go-between, who would make distances irrevocable; no translator, who would break it apart into two languages). (Patience, long snapped, tied up again...).
My residence, Muzot (which saved me after the snarled tangle and cave-in of the war), four hours from here: my (if I may answer you literally) "my heroic French homeland." Look at it. Almost Spain, Provence, Rhone Valley. Austere et melodieux; knoll in wonderful harmony with the old turretry, which still belongs to it just as much as it does to the one who inures the stones to fate, who exercises them....
Tsvetaeva to Rilke
May 12, 1926
Dear Rainer Maria!
The Beyond (not the religious one, more nearly the geographic one) you know better than the Here, this side; you know it topographically, with all its mountains and islands and castles. A topography of the soul - that's what you are. And with your “Book (oh, it was not a book after all, it was becoming a book!) of Poverty, Pilgrimage, and Death" you have done more for God than all the philosophers and priests taken together. Priests are nothing but intruders between me and God (gods).
You, you are the friend who deepens and enhances the joy (is it joy?) of a great hour between Two (the eternal pair!), without whom one ceases to feel the other, and whom, as one is finally forced to do, one loves exclusively. God. You alone have said something new to God. You are the explicit John-Jesus relationship (unspoken by either). Yet - difference - you are the Father's favorite, not the Son's, you are God the Father's (who didn't have one!) John. You chose (electing - choice!) the Father because He was lonelier and - impossible to love! No David, no. David had all the shyness of his strength, you have all your strength's daring and risk. The world was much too young. Everything had to come to pass - for you to come. You dared so to love (to proclaim!) the unhuman (thoroughly divine) God the Father as John never dared to love the thoroughly human son!
I wonder if you understand me, given my poor German? French I write more fluently; that's why I don't want to write to you in French. From me to you nothing should flow. - Fly, yes! And failing that, better to halt and stumble.
Do you know how I fare with your poems? At the first blink of the eye. ("Flash of the eye" would be, and would sound, better; if I were German, I would have written: lightning, - after all, it is even quicker than a blink! And the flash of an eye is surely even swifter than ordinary lightning. Two velocities in one. (Not so?) As I was saying, at the first blink of an eye (for I am a stranger), I know everything - then - night nothing - then: God, how lucid! - luminous? And as I am trying to seize it (not allegorically - almost with my hand), it becomes hazed: nothing but the printed lines. Lightning on lightning (lightning - night - lightning), that's how it takes me as I read you. It must be the same with you as you write yourself. "Rilke is easy to grasp" - thus say, in the pride of the consecrated, the anthroposophists and other sectarian mystics (not that I have anything against them - better than socialism - but still!...). "Easy to grasp." All chopped up, in pieces: Rilke - the romantic; Rilke - the mystic; Rilke - the Grecian of the myths; etc., etc. - Come, pit your strength against the whole Rilke instead. Here all your clairvoyance is good for nothing. A miracle needs no clairvoyance. It is there. Confirmed, seen by any peasant with his own eyes. Miracle: inviolable: ungraspable.
For two nights I have been reading in your Orpheus (your Orpheus is a country, therefore "in"). ....
....Orpheus, can never have died, because he is right now (eternally!) dying. В каждом любящем - заново, и в каждом любящем - вечно. (In every loving - again, and in every loving – forever). Therefore - no consolation until we have 'died' ourselves." (More or less; it was better in Russian.) This kind of thing of course doesn't belong in "literature" (belles lettres); that's why they laughed at me.
Your Orpheus. The first line: “A tree sprang up. 0 sheer transcendence!“ There it is, you see, the grand manner (grand of kind). And how well I know thisi The tree is higher than itself, the tree overclimbs itself - hence so tall. One of those whom God happily leaves unprovided for (they look after themselves!) and which grow straight into heaven, into the seventh (in Russian) “Song is existence" (to be there; anyone not singing is not yet there, is still coming!). "Heavy are the mountains, heavy are the seas..." as though you were comforting a child, urging him to take heart... and - almost smiling about his unreason: “... But the winds ... but the spaces...” This line is pure intonation (intention), therefore pure, pure angel speech. (Intonation: an intention which has become sound. Intention incarnate.) ... “We must not strain ourselves. For other names. Once and for all” “It's Orpheus if it sings.” If it dies, among poets; that's what I meant overleaf. “Is he from here?” And already one feels the coming (approaching) “No.”
Oh, Rainer, I don't want to choose (choosing is rooting, polluting!), I cannot choose, I take the first random lines my ear still holds. Into my ears you write to me, by the ear you are read. “This pride out of earth” (the horse, grown out of this soil). Rainer! A book will follow Craft, there you will find a Saint George who is almost steed and a steed that is almost a rider. I don't separate them and I name neither one. Your horseman! For a horseman is not the one who rides, horseman is the two together, a new figure, something that used not to be there not knight and steed: rider-horse and horse-rider: horseman.
Your penciled notation (is this right? no, annotation in the margin, I suppose!) - those dear, airy three words: “to a dog”. Dear one, this takes me right back to the middle of my childhood, age eleven; that is to say, into the Black Forest (into the very middle of it!). And the headmistress (Fräulein Brinck was her name, and she was gruesome) is saying, "This-little Satan's brat, Marina, makes one forgive her anything; all she has to do is say 'a dog'!" ("A dog" - yowling with ecstasy and emotion and wanting - ein Hund with three u-u-u's. They weren't pedigreed dogs, just street mongrels!)
Rainer, the purest happiness, a gift of happiness, pressing your forehead on the dog's forehead, eye to eye, and the dog, astonished, taken aback, and flattered (this doesn't happen every day!), growls. And then one holds his muzzle shut with both hands (since he might bite from sheer emotion) and kisses, just smothers him.
Where you are, do you have a dog? And where are you? Val-Mont (Valmont), that was the hero's name in that hard and cold and clever book, Laclos's Liaisons dangerieuses, which - I can't think why, is the most moral of books! - was on our index in Russia, along with the memoirs of Casanova (whom I love with a passion!). I have written to Prague to have them send me my two dramatic poems (I don't think you can call them dramas), "Adventure" (Henrietta, do you remember? his loveliest, which wasn't an adventure at all, the only one that was no adventure) and "Phoenix" - Casanova's end. Dux, seventy-five years old, alone, poor, out of style, laughed at. His last love. Seventy-five years - thirteen years. You have to read that; it is easy to understand (the language, I mean). And - don't be amazed - it was my Germanic soul that wrote it, not my French one.
“We touch each other. - How? With wings that beat,” Rainer, Rainer, you told me that without knowing me, like a blind man (a seeing one!), at random.
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Ascension. How lovely! The sky in these words looks just like my ocean - with waves. And Christ - is riding.
Your letter has just arrived. Time for mine to go.
Tvetaeva to Rilke
Ascension Day, May 13, 1926
You cannot boast of matters grandly sensed...” [Ninth Duino Elegy]
Therefore, in a purely human and very modest way, Rilke the man. - As I wrote this, I hesitated. I love the poet, not the person. (As you read this, you came to a halt.) - This sounds like aestheticism, i.e., soulless, inanimate (aesthetes are those who have no soul, just five acute senses, often fewer). May I even choose? As soon as I love, I cannot and will not choose (that stale and narrow privilege!), you already are an absolute. And until I love (know), you, I may not choose because I have no relation to you (don't know your past, after all!).
No, Rainer, I am not a collector, and Rilke the man, who is even greater than the poet (turn it whatever way you like, it comes to the same: greater still!) - because he carries the poet (knight and steed: horseman!) - I love inseparably from the poet.
By Rilke the man, I meant the one who lives, gets things published, whom one likes, who already belongs to so many, who must be tired by now of so much love. All I meant was the many, many human contacts! By Rilke the man I meant the place where there is no room for me. Thus the entire set of poet and man - renunciation, abnegation, lest you might think that I am intruding into your life, on your time, into your day (working day and social day), which has been planned and allotted once and for all. A renunciation - lest it hurt afterward: the first name, the first callendar date that one collides with, by which one is rejected ('Vorsicht - Verzicht'.)
Dear one, I am very obedient. If you tell me: Do not write, it excites me. I need myself badly for myself - I shall understand, and withstand, everything.
I am writing to you on the dune in the thin dune grass. My son (fifteen months old, George - in honor of our White Army. Now, Boris thinks he is a socialist! Do you believe that?) - well, then, my son, who is sitting astride me (almost on my head!), takes my pencil away (I happen to be writing in the notebook). He is so lovely that all the old women [those costumes! If you could be here!) have only one exclamation: "Mais c'est un petit Roi de Rome!" A Bonapartist Vendee- peculiar? The king they have already forgotten, the word emperor is still resonant. Our landlords (fisherman and his wife, a fairy-tale couple totaling one hundred and fifty years of age!) still know a good deal of the last empire.
Children in the plural? Darling, I had to smile. Children - that word stretches (two or seven?). Two, darling, a twelve-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy.[for unknown reasons she deducts 2 years from her children's, her own, and Sergey's age!] Two little giants from the children's Valhalla. Prize exhibits if ever you saw any. How tall is Ariadne? Oh, almost taller than I (I'm not small) and twice as hefty (I weigh nothing). Here is my picture - passport picture - I am younger and brighter. A better one will follow, taken quite recently, in Paris. By the photographer Shumov, the one who photographed your great friend's works [Rodin]. He has told me a lot about them. I was too embarrassed to ask if he didn't have a picture of you. I would never have ordered it. (That I am asking you for your picture - straight out and quite without compunction! - please, that much you understand by now.) “... the fear and blue of childhood...” [from Rilke, “Self-Portrait, New Poems”] I still remember that.
Who are you? Teuton? Austrian? (That used to be one and the same, didn't it? I am not very cultured - bits and pieces.) Your place of birth? How did you get to Prague? How to the Russian czars? There is a miracle here, after all: You - Russia - I.
All these questions!
Your earthly fate concerns me even more intimately than your other paths, for I know how difficult it is - all of it.
Have you been ill long? How do you live in Muzot? That magnificence. Large and somber and tall. Do you have a family? Children? (I don't think so.) Are you going to stay long in the sanatorium? Do you have friends there?
Boulevard de Crancy, 3 (not far from Ouchy, I think), that's where you can find me. I have short hair (like now, I've never in my life worn it long), and I look like a boy, with a rosary around his neck.
Tonight I did some reading in your Duino Elegies. In the daytime I never get to reading or writing. The day's work goes on deep into the night, for I have only my two hands. My husband - a volunteer soldier all his young life, barely thirty-one years old (I am turning thirty-one in September) - is very sickly, and a man, after all, cannot do woman's work, it looks ugly (to the wife, that is). At this moment he's still in Paris, but is coming here soon. He is handsome: the handsomeness of suffering. My daughter looks like him, although more on the happy side, our son is more like me, but both are bright, bright-eyed, моя раскиаска [my rascals].
What to tell you about the book? The ultimate stair. My bed turned into a cloud.
Darling, I know everything already - from me to you - but it is still too early for a lot of things. Something in you must still get used to me.
Rilke to Tsvetaeva
Val-Mont par Glion (Vaud) Suisse
17 May 1926
"Марина! Спасибо за мир ... " - Marina! Thank you for the world... [from Tsvetaeva: “Psyche: A Romance”]
That your daughter should have been able to say this to you, Marina, and in the face of hard times! (Who in the days of my childhood, what child - in Austria at least, in Bohemia - would have found the inner urge of assent to speak like this?... My daughter perhaps might have wanted to say this to me if the word and its mode of address had been more urgent in her; but almost the only time I really was with her was before any verbalness at all, from her birth to sometime after her first birthday: for as early as that, what had arisen, a little against my will, in terms of house, family, and settling down, was dissolving; the marriage, too, although never terminated legally, returned me to my natural singleness (after arely two years) and Paris began: this was 1902. Now my daughter has long since married and settled somewhere on an estate in Saxony, which I'm not familiar with; and my granddaughter, Christine, whom I also only guess at, from a lot of small snapshots, passed her second year in November and is growing well into her third....
But all of this is on a different plane from the one on which Muzot stands, which ever since 1921 (when the most wondrous circumstances, no, outright miracle itself, allowed me to find it and hold on to it) I have inhabited alone (not counting visits from friends from time to time - which are rare, though), as much alone as I've always lived, more so if anything: in an often uncanny intensification of what being alone means, in a solitude rushed to an ultimate and uttermost state (for formerly, being alone in Paris, and Rome, in Venice - where I have spent much time without being alone - in Spain, in Tunis, in Algiers, in Egypt... in that searching emphatic place, Provence ..., there was still participation, being part of a web of relationships and tutelage). Muzot, on the other hand, more challenging than anything else, allowed nothing but achievement, the vertical leap out into open space, the whole earth's ascension to heaven within me....
Dear one, why do I have to tell you, since you have the Elegies in your hands, since you have the Elegies in your hand and over your heart, which beats against them in shared witness....
These poems had been begun (1912) in no less grand a solitude, on the Adriatic, in the old (destroyed in the war) castle of Duino (near Trieste); in Spain and later in Paris fragments of lines turned up, and all of this would probably have converged into achievement in 1914 in Paris if that great interruption of the world had not cut in, making me go rigid and static.
For years. Whatever I might have saved out of that long winter of my being, I myself did not know when I was finally (1919) able to take refuge in Switzerland, as on a soil where something natural and guileless still had full authority. I did not find out until 1921, at Muzot, in the first lonely year I was in residence there, when the nature of my temperament, which circumstances had repressed, drove, within a few weeks, the unheard-of growth, first of Orpheus (each part in three days!), then of the Elegies into its season of completion. Violently, almost destroying me with the passion of its outbreak, and yet acting so gently and with such a sense of pattern that not one (think of it), not a single pre-existing line failed to be fitted into the place, in which it was a natural stair and a voice among the voices. How that healed together, the earlier with its already aging fractured surface so intimately fitted onto the glowing one, taking on such new glow from proximity and infinite kinship that never a visible seam remained! Triumph and jubilation, Marina, without equal!
And this is what the overabundance of solitude, in all its deadliness, was needed for. But, then, was it that I tried to maintain the impossible conditions of intensified isolation over and beyond what had been achieved, mastered? (This I did, not from stubbornness or to wrest a bonus from grace, but because letting in the "other," living by him and for him, instantly (just after the instant) entails conflicts and tasks I had to fear at a time when I had accomplished everything much too extremely merely to change to a new kind of achievement.)
Or is it (since the work itself, our great breathtaking labor, does not take revenge, after all; even when it forces us outside and beyond ourselves, it leaves us, not fatigued or exhausted, but staggering under the reward), is it that, mechanically, I endured too long the same special conditions of seclusion, in a heroic valleyscape, under the almost sun-raging sky of a wine country?
- At any rate, for the first time in my life and in a treacherous fashion, my own aloneness turned against me with a physical sting, rendering this being-with-myself suspect and dangerous, and more and more threatening, because of the physical disturbances that now drowned out what to me had been forever and ever the most primeval silence.
Hence my presence here in Val-Mont, for the third time now (after two shorter stays in 1924 and 1925), hence my long sojourn in Paris (January to mid-August 1925), where in all conscience the opposite, the adversary, of the life offered by Muzot seemed to gain entry in all its guises and permutations; hence my reluctance to withdraw once more into my solid tower with all the danger that had invaded me and was rankly growing inside me.-
What do the doctors think? A trauma of the nerve which they call grand sympathique, that large, beautiful tree of nerves which, if it does not bear our fruits, at any rate (possibly) brings forth the most dazzling blossom of our being.... Disturbances of a more subjective than really factually or organically discernible kind (so far, at any rate); inroads upon that absence of bodily self-awareness from which harmony with our material stake (in ourselves) so involuntarily results. Slight disorders of my body which render me all the more at a loss, since I had been used to living with it in so perfect a concord, without a physician, that I was close to thinking of it as a child of my soul.
This began at a certain turning point in my life (about 1899 and 1900, which coincided with my sojourns in Russia). Light and handy as it was and easy to take along into the most abstract spheres, how often voided, endowed with weight only by courtesy and still visible merely so as not to alarm the invisible! So intimately mine; friend, truly my bearer, the holder of my heart; capable of all my joys, disparaging none, making each my own in a more particular way; bestowing them upon me at the precise intersection of my senses. As my creature, ready for me and risen in service to my use; as pre-creature, outweighing me with all the security and magnificence of descent. A thing of genius, reared by centuries, glorious in the serene innocence of its not-I, touching in its eagerness to be faithful to the "I" in all its transitions and oscillations. Simple of mind and wise. How much I have to thank it, which, by dint of its nature, reinforced my delight in a fruit, in the wind, in walking on grass. To thank it, whereby I am akin to the impenetrable into which I cannot force entry, and to the fluid element that runs off me. And it was still conversant with the stars by virtue of its heaviness.
To sum up: distressing, this dissension with it, and too fresh a distress to be ready for compromise yet. And the doctor cannot understand what it is that distresses me so profoundly, so centrally, about these handicaps, which after all are tolerable, although they have set up their branch offices all over the body while they were about it....
All this about me, dear Marina, pardon me! And pardon also the opposite, if all of a sudden I should turn uncommunicative - which ought not to keep you from writing to me. As often as the spirit moves you to "fly." Your German - no, it doesn't "stumble," it just takes heavier steps now and then, like the steps of one who is going down a stone staircase with stairs of unequal height and cannot estimate as he comes down when his foot is going to come to rest, right now or suddenly farther down than he thought. What strength is in you, poet, to achieve your intent even in this language, and be accurate and yourself. Your gait ringing on the steps, your tone, you. Your lightness, your controlled, bestowed weight.
But do you know that I overrated myself? Because I read Ivan Goncharov in Russian as recently as ten years ago almost without a dictionary and still have relatively little difficulty reading letters in Russian, and from time to time see one in that light in which all languages are a single language (and this one, yours, Russian, is so close to being all of them anyway!), I was led to overestimate myself...: your books, even though you guide me through the more alien passages, are difficult for me - it has been too long since I have read consistently, save for scattered things like (in Paris) some of Boris's verses in an anthology. If only I could read you, Marina, as you read me! Nonetheless, the two little books accompany me from table to bed and in many ways outdo the ones easily read.
What keeps me from sending you my passport picture is not vanity, but actually awareness of its lightning-flash fortuity. But I have put it next to your picture: get used to this first in pictures, will you?
I shall have to go to Muzot for a day shortly, and there I'll pick up for you a few small, fairly valid pictures from two years ago. I completely avoid sitting for photographs or pictures: Shumov has made no picture of me.Send me that other one of yours soon!
After this letter there was a sudden silence. Marina stopped writing. Proud and vulnerable as she was in her self-exposure, she read all her egocentric misgivings into Rilke's tactful reference to his illness. However, she wrote about her hunches to Boris. After suffering for two weeks in silence, Marina took up her pen again, going back to the visit planned in the beginning, trying in the process to fend off Boris' intervention.
Tsvetaeva to Rilke
June 3, 1926
Much - everything, even - remains in my notebook. For you let me quote only the words from my letter to Boris Pasternak: "When I used to ask you what we would do if we were together, you once answered, 'We would go to see Rilke.' I tell you Rilke is overburdened; he doesn't need anything or anyone. He breathes upon me the bitter cold of the possessor, of whose possessions I am knowingly and by predestination a part. I have nothing to give him, all has been taken in advance. He does not need me, or you. Strength, always attracting, distracts. Something in him (what it's called is your guess) does not want to be diverted. Must not be.
This encounter is a great wound, a blow to my heart (the heart not only beats, it also takes beatings - whenever it rises to a joyous higher beat!), the more so since he is right: in thinking that I (you) in our best hours are the same! - One sentence in your letter: - "... If all of a sudden I should turn uncommunicative - which ought not to keep you from writing to me. As often as ..." The moment I read that - that sentence asks for rest. Rest took place. (You are a little rested, aren't you?) Do you know what all this means: rest, unrest, request, fulfillment, etc. Listen, I suddenly seem to feel quite sure about this.
Before life one is always and everything; as one lives, one is something and now (is, has – all the same!). My love for you was parceled out in days and letters, hours and lines. Hence the unrest. (That's why you asked for rest!) Letter today, letter tomorrow. You are alive, I want to see you. A transplantation from the always to the now. Hence the pain, the counting of days, each hour's worthlessness, the hour now merely a step to the letter. To be within the other person or to have the other person (or want to have, want in general - all one!). When I realized this, I fell silent.
Now it is over. It doesn't take me long to be done with wanting. What did I want from you? Nothing. Rather - around you. Perhaps, simply - to you. Being without a letter was already turning into being without you. The longer, the worse. Without a letter - without you; with a letter - without you; with you - without you. Into you! Not to be. - Die! This is how I am. This is how love is - infinite time.Thankless and self-destructive. ”I do not love or honor love.” says one of my lines (a grande bassesse de 1'amour, or - better still - La bassesse supreme de 1'amour). So, Rainer, it's over. I don't want to go to you. I don't wish to want to.
Perhaps - some time - with Boris (who from afar has "divined" everything! The poet's ear!) - but when - how... no meddling! And - so you won't think me base - it wasn't because of the pain that I was silent, it was because of the ugliness of that pain!
Now it's over. Now I'm writing to you again.
She and Boris did not even consider that Rilke might be dying! How could a God, after all, be mortal? - And how well Rilke knew how to deal with difficult loves! He composed an “Eleventh” Elegy for her....
Rilke to Tsvetaeva[PTR p.163-166]
Chateau de Muzot, s/Sierre (Valais), Suisse
June 8, 1926, Evening
So my little word, as you erected it before you, has cast this great shadow, in which you, incomprehensibly to me, stayed away, Marina! Incomprehensibly, and now comprehended. That I wrote it, that sentence of mine, was not because I was overburdened, as you reported to Boris - no, free, Marina, free and easy, only so unpredictably called upon (which is what you mean, after all). Only so totally without prior knowledge. And, for some time past, probably on physical grounds, so apprehensive lest somebody, lest someone dear, might expect some action or attention from me and I might fail them, fall short of what is expected. I still manage the most difficult thing from a standing start - but suddenly I fear the necessity (even the inner, even the happy necessity) of a letter like the steepest of tasks before me: insurmountable. I wonder if everything has to be the way your insight tells you? Probably. This sense we have of experience pre-empted: should one bemoan it, exult in it? I wrote you today a whole poem between the vineyard hills, sitting on a warm (not yet warmed through for good, unfortunately) wall and riveting the lizards in their tracks by intoning it. You see I'm back.
But first masons and other workmen must ply their trade in my old tower. Nowhere any peace, and cold and wet in this wine country, which used to be sure of its sun.
Now that we have arrived at "not wanting," we deserve some mitigation. Here are my little pictures. Will you "despite everything" send me that other one of yours some time? I don't want to stop looking forward to it.
Marina's reply begins with an apology to Rilke about her “wounded” message to him and a long mortified confession that she had discussed Rilke's letter with Boris. [both omitted here] She feels terrible about her breach of confidence, - the violation of her possessive secrecy. She had promised Boris a copy of the Elegy, but never sent it. Boris only saw it in 1959. Boris, in his letter had morally upbraided her. She was sufficiently confused that she forgot to inquire after Rilke's illness....
St.-Gilles June 14, 1926
. . . Your elegy, Rainer. All my life I have been giving myself away in poems - to all. To poets, too. But always I gave too much, drowned out the possible response. The response took fright. I had anticipated the entire echo. That's why poets wrote no poems to me (bad ones.-.still none, less than none!) - and I always smiled: they leave it to him who is to come in a hundred years.
And, Rainer, your poem, Rilke's poem, the poet's, poetry's poem. And, Rainer.-.my muteness. Reverse situation. Right situation. Oh, I love you, I can't call it anything else after all, the first word at random and yet the premier word and the best.
Rainer, last night I stepped out once more to take down laundry, for it was going to rain. And took all of the wind - no, all of the north in my arms. And his name was You (to-morrow it will be the south!). I didn't take it home with me, it stayed on the threshold. It didn't go into the house, but it took me along to the sea as soon as I went to sleep.
Signal-givers, no more. And about the lovers, of their being shut in and excluded ("From the center of Always . . .").
“And the long, still roving of the moon” And yet there is no other meaning to it but: I love you.
P.s. The first dog that you stroke after this letter is me. Pass auf, was er für Augen macht! - Whatch his eyes.
On June 30 Rilke sent Marina a copy of his just published “Vergers” with the insciption
voici galets et coquillages
some seashells and flints
July 6, 1926
Goethe says somewhere that one cannot achieve anything of significance in a foreign language.-.and that has always rung false to me. (Goethe always sounds right in the aggregate, valid only in the summation, which is why I am now doing him an injustice.)
Writing poetry is in itself translating, from the mother tongue into another, whether French or German should make no difference. No language is the mother tongue. Writing poetry is rewriting it. That's why I am puzzled when people talk of French or Russian, etc., poets. A poet may write in French; he cannot be a French poet. That's ludicrous.
I am not a Russian poet and am always astonished to be taken for one and looked upon in this light. The reason one becomes a poet (if it were even possible to become one, if one were not one before all else!) is to avoid being French, Russian, etc., in order to be everything. Or: one is a poet because one is not French. Nationality.-.segregation and enclosure. Orpheus bursts nationality, or he extends it to such breadth and width that everyone (bygone and being) is included. Beautiful German.-.there! And beautiful Russian!
Yet every language has something that belongs to it alone, that is it. That is why you sound different in French and in German.-.that's why you wrote in French, after all! German is deeper than French, fuller, more drawn out, darker. French: clock without resonance; German.-.more resonance than clock (chime). German verse is reworked by the reader, once more, always, and infinitely, in the poet's wake; French is there. German becomes, French is. Ungrateful language for poets.-.that's, of course, why you wrote in it. Almost impossible language!
German.-.infinite promise (that is a gift, surely!); French.-.gift once and for all. Platen writes French. You (Vergers) write German, i.e., your self, the poet. For German surely is closest to the mother tongue. Closer than Russian, I think. Closer still.
Rainer, I recognize you in every line, yet you sound briefer, each line an abridged Rilke, something like an abstract. Every word. Every syllable. Grand-Mâitre des absences.-.you did that splendidly. Grossmeister would not sound like that! And "partance. . . (entre ton trop d'arrivée et ton trop de partance.”).[Between your excess of arrival/And your excess of departure].-.that has come from very far (that's why it goes so far!).-.from Mary Stuart's
Combien j'ai douce souvenance
De ce beau pays de Fiance...
[How full and sweet my memory runs/Back to the lovely land of France....]
Do you know these lines of hers:-
Car mon pis et mon mieux
Sont les plus déserts lieux.
[For my worst and my best/Are more bleak than the rest.]
(Rainer, what would sound splendid in French is/would be the Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke!
I have copied "Verger" for Boris.
Soyons plus vite
Que le rapide depart
[Let us be swifter/ than the express departs.]
rhymes with my
Тот поезд , на которы все oпаздывают .
[The train on which everybody is late...]
(about the poet).
And "pourquoi tant appuyer" with Mlle. de Lespinasse's: "Glissez mortels, n'appuyez pas!"
[“Why lean so hard” .-. “Glide, mortals, do not lean!”]
Do you know what is new in your book? Your smile ("Les Anges sont-ils devenus discrets!" - "Mais l'excellente place.-.est un peu trop en face.. .").
[The Angels have become discreet!.-. But the excellent place is a bit too full]
Oh, Rainer, the first page of my letter might as well be completely omitted. Today you are:
... Et pourtant quel fier moment
Lorsqu'un instant le vent se déclare
Pour tel pays: consent à la France -
[And yet, what a proud moment/ When of a sudden the wind declares/ For such a land: consents to France]
If I were French and were writing about your book, "Consent à la France" would be the epigram.
And now - from you to me:
Parfois elle paraînt attendrie
Qu'on l'écoute si bien, -
Alois elle montre sa vie
Et ne dit plus rien." (You, nature!)
[At times she seems fondly aglow
to be heard so well, -
then she lets her life show
and ceases to tell.]
Still, you are a poet, too, Rainer, and from poets one expects de l'inédit. Therefore a big letter [from you], quick, for me alone, or I'm going to make myself out more stupid than I am and be "offended," "lacerated in my finest feelings," etc., whereupon you'll write to me after all (for the sake of peace and quiet! and because you are good!).
May I kiss you? It's no more than embracing, surely, and embracing without kissing is practically impossible, isn't it?
Rilke felt so lonely at Muzot that he moved to a Hotel in Ragaz, where his friends could visit him. He hid his ailments – still undiagnosed – from everybody and himself. His last letters to Tsvetaeva were written from there.
Rilke to Tsvetaeva
Hotel Hof-Ragaz, Ragaz (Suisse)
July 28, 1926
You wonderful Marina,
As in your first letter, I admire in each of the ones that have followed your habit of precise seeking and finding, your inde- fatigable journey to what you mean, and, always, your being right. You are right, Marina (isn't that a rare thing with a woman, such a being-in-the-right in the most valid, the most carefree sense?). This having a right not to anything, hardly coming from anywhere; but from such pure self-sufficiency, out of the fullness and completeness of it all, you are right, and hence have forever a right to the infinite.
Every time I write to you, I'd like to write like you, to speak my self in Marinian, by your equable, and withal so feeling, means. Your utterance, Marina, is like a star's reflection when it appears in the water, and is disturbed by the water, by the life of the water, by its fluid night; interrupted, canceled, and again admitted, and then deeper in the element, as if already familiar with this mirror world and, after each waning, back again and more deeply immersed! (You great star!)
Do you know of the young Tycho Brahe's- trip home, made at a time when he wasn't really allowed to practice astronomy yet, but was on vacation at an uncle's estate ... and there it turned out that he already knew the sky so exactly, so much by heart (pense: il savait Ie del par coeur.) that a simple turning-up of his eye, more resting than searching, bestowed upon him the new star, in the constellation of the Lyre: his first discovery in starry nature. (And is it not, or am I mistaken, this very star, Alpha in Lyre, "visible de toute la Provence et des terres méditierranées,' which now seems destined to be named after the poet Mistral) Would that not be enough, by the way, to make us feel close to this era - that this is possible again, the poet flung beneath the stars: Tu dlias a ta fille un jour, en t'anetant a Maillane: void "Mistral," comme il est beau ce soir.' [You'll tell your daughter one day as you stop at Maillane: look, there is "Mistral," how beautiful it is tonight!] At last a "fame" beyond being on a street sign!)
But you, Marina, I did not find by my free-ranging eye; Boris placed the telescope in front of my sky for me.... First, spaces rushed past my up-gazing eye and then, suddenly, you stood there in the middle of the field, pure and strong, where the rays of your first letter gathered you up for me.
The most recent of your letters has now been with me since July 9: how often I meant to write! But my life is so curiously heavy in me that I often cannot stir it from its place; gravity seems to be forming a new relationship to it - not since childhood have I been in such an immovable state of soul; but back then, the world was under the pull of gravity and would press on one who himself was like a wing wrenched off somewhere, from which feather upon little feather escaped into limbo; now I myself am that mass, and the world is like a sleep all around me, and summer is so curiously absent-minded, as though it was not thinking of its own affairs....
As you see, I am again away from Muzot: to see, here at Ragaz, my oldest friends and the only ones whom I considered still linked to me from Austrian times (how much longer? for their age overtakes me by a great span...). And with them came, unexpectedly, a Russian woman friend of theirs; a Russian - think how this struck home with me! Now they are all gone, but I'm staying on a little for the sake of the beautiful aquamarine-clear medicinal springs. And you?
Tsvetaeva to Rilke
August 2, 1926
Rainer, I received your letter on my name day, July 17/30, for I have a patron saint, if you please, although I consider myself the first person to bear my name, as I considered you the first holder of yours. The saint whose name was Rainer had a different name, I'm sure. You are Rainer. So, on my name day the loveliest gift - your letter. Quite unexpected, as it is each time; I shall never get used to you (or to myself!), or to the marveling, or to my own thinking of you. You are what I'm going to dream about tonight, what will dream me tonight. (Dreaming or being dreamed?) A stranger, I, in someone else's dream. I never await you; I always awake you.
When somebody dreams of us together - that is when we shall meet.
Rainer, another reason I want to come to you is the new I, the one who can arise only with you, in you. And then, Rainer ("Rainer" - the leitmotif of this letter) - don't be cross with me - it is I talking - I want to sleep with you, fall asleep and sleep. That magnificent folk word, how deep, how true, how unequivocal, how exactly what it says. Just - sleep. And nothing more. No, one more thing: my head buried in your left shoulder, my arm around your right one - and that's all. No, another thing: and know right into the deepest sleep that it is you. And more: how your heart sounds. And - kiss your heart.
Sometimes I think: I must exploit the chance that I am still (after all!) body. Soon I'll have no more arms. And more - it sounds like confession (what is confession? to boast of one's blackness! Who could speak of his sufferings without feeling inspired, which is to say happy?!) - so, to keep it from sounding like a confession: bodies are bored with me. They sense something and don't believe me (i.e., my body), although I do everything like everybody else. Too ... altruistic, possibly, too ... benevolent. Also trusting - too much so! Aliens are trusting, savages, who know of no custom or law. People from here do not trust! All this does not belong with love; love hears and feels only itself, very local and punctual - that I cannot imitate. And the great compassion, who knows whence, infinite goodness and - falsehood.
I feel older and older. Too serious - the children's game is not serious enough.
The mouth I have always felt as world: vaulted firmament, cave, ravine, shoal.[Untiefe]. I have always translated the body into the soul (dis-bodied it!), have so gloried "physical" love - in order to be able to like it - that suddenly nothing was left of it. Engrossing myself in it, hollowed it out. Penetrating into it, ousted it. Nothing remained of it but myself: Soul (that is my name, which is why I marvel: name day!).
Love hates poets. He does not wish to be glorified ("himself glorious enough"); he believes himself an absolute, sole absolute. He doesn't trust us. In his heart of hearts he knows that he is not lordly (which is why he lords it so!); he knows that all lordliness is soul, and where soul begins, the body ends. Jealousy, Rainer, purest. The same thing as soul feels for body. But I am always jealous of the body: so much celebrated! The little episode of Francesca and Paolo - poor Dante! - who still thinks of Dante and Beatrice? I am jealous of the human comedy. Soul is never loved so much as body; at most it is praised. With a thousand souls they love the body. Who has ever courted damnation for the sake of a soui? And even if someone wanted to - impossible! To love a soul unto damnation means being an angel. Of all of hell we are cheated! (... Trop pure - provoque un vent de dédain! ) Why do I tell you all this? From fear, perhaps - you might take me for generally passionate (passion - bondage). "I love you and want to sleep with you" - friendship is begrudged by this sort of brevity. But I say it in a different voice, almost asleep, fast asleep. I sound quite different from passion. If you took me to you, you would take to you les plus deserts lieux. Everything that never sleeps would like to sleep its fill in your arms. Right down into the soul (throat) - that's what the kiss would be like. (Not firebrand: shoal.)
Je ne plaide pas ma cause, je plaide la cause du plus absolu des baisers." [I am not pleading for myself, I am pleading on behalf of the most absolute of kisses.]
You are always traveling, you don't live anywhere, and you encounter Russians who are not me. Listen, so you'll know: In Rainerland I alone represent Russia. Rainer, what are you, actually? Not a German, although all German! Not a Czech, although born in Bohemia ( - born in a country that wasn't there yet - that is fitting); not an Austrian, for Austria has been and you are becoming'. Isn't that splendid? You - without country! "Le grand poéte tchéchoslovaque," as they said in the Parisian journals. Rainer, perhaps you'll turn out to be a "Slovaque"? This makes me laugh!
Rainer, dusk is falling, I love you. A train is howling. Trains are wolves, wolves are Russia. No train - all Russia is howling for you. Rainer, don't be angry with me; angry or not, tonight I'm sleeping with you. A rift in the darkness; because it is stars I deduce: window. (The window is what I think of when I think of you and me, not the bed.) Eyes wide open, for outside it is still blacker than inside. My bed is a ship; we are going traveling.
... mais un jour on ne le vit plus.
Le petit navire sans voiles,
Lassé des océans maudits,
Voguant au pays des étoiles -
Avait gagné le paradis"
[.. but one day it was seen no more.
The little ship without sails.
Tired of oceans accursed,
Bobbing in the land of the stars -
Had come into Paradise.
(Children's folk song from Lausanne.)]
You don't have to answer - go on kissing.
August 14, 1926
I wonder if you received my last letter. I'm asking you because I threw it into a departing train. The mailbox looked sinister enough: dust three fingers thick and sporting a huge prison lock. My toss was already completed when I noticed this, my hand was too fast; the letter will lie there, I suppose - until doomsday.
Approximately ten days ago. Contents? Letter is content, therefore hasn't any, but, not to be too pedantic: something about sleeping, yours and mine (et le lit - table evanouie.. ,[And the bed - a vanished table (Rilke)]. A bed - in order to see miracles, to divine things; a table – in order to do them, to bring them about. Bed: back; table: elbow. Man is bed and table, therefore doesn't need to have any.
(The other letter sounded quite different, and the train that... carries and buries it howled and whistled differently from a passenger train; if I could hear it, I would know at once whether the letter was still inside.) Rainer, write me a postcard, just two words: train letter received - or not received. Then I'll write you a long letter....
Rainer, this winter we must get together, somewhere in French Savoie, close to Switzerland, somewhere you have never been. (Or is there such a never? Doubt it.) In a tiny little town, Rainer. For as long as you like; for as briefly as you like. I write this quite simply because I know that you will not only love me very much but also take great joy in me. (Joy - attractive to you, too.)
Or in the autumn, Rainer. Or early next year. Say yes, so I may have great joy from this day on, something to scan the future for (looking back to?).(Past is still ahead...) Because it is very late and I am very tired, I embrace you.
Rilke to Tsvetaeva
Hotel Hof-Ragaz, Ragaz, Suisse
August 19, 1926
The train, Marina, this train (with your last letter) of which you conceived a belated mistrust, steamed off breathlessly in my direction; the sinister mailbox was old, as camels and crocodiles are old, sheltered from its youth by being old: most dependable quality. Yes and yes and yes, Marina, all yeses to what you want and are, together as large as YES to life itself...: but contained in the latter there are, after all, all those ten thousand noes, the unforeseeable ones.
If I am less sure of its being vouchsafed to us to be like two layers, two strata, densely delicate, two halves of a nest - how much I would like to recall now the Russian for nest (forgotten)! - of the sleep nest, on which a great bird, a raptor of the spirit (no blinking!), settles... if I am less sure (than you)... (is it due to the oddly persistent affliction I am going through and often feel hardly likely to get over, so that I now expect the things to come to be not themselves but a precise and specific aid, an assistance made to measure?)... for all that, I am no less (no: all the more) in need of for once restoring, up-hauling myself in just this way out of the depths, out of the well of wells. But fear in between of the many days until then, with their repetitions; fear (suddenly) of the contingencies, which know nothing of this and cannot be informed.... Not into the winter!...
"You don't need to answer" is how you closed your letter. Could not answer, perhaps: for who knows, Marina, didn't my answering come to pass before your asking? In Val-Mont that time I looked for it on the maps - celle petite ville en Savoye" - and now you pronounce it! Move it out of time, take it for granted, as if it had already been. I thought as I was reading you - and right then there it was, your writing in the right margin - "Past is still ahead...." (Magical line, but in so anxious a context.)
Now forget, dear one, blindly trusting, what was asked and answered there; place it (whatever it may be allowed to become) under the protection, under the power of the joy you bring, which I need, which I may bring if you start off the bringing (which has already been done).
That Boris is keeping silent concerns and distresses me; so it actually was my advent, after all, that came to lodge itself athwart the great current of his outpouring to you? And although I understand what you say of the two "Abroads" (which preclude each other), I still find you stern, almost harsh toward him (and stern toward me, if you like, in that Russia must never and nowhere exist for me except through you!). Rebellious against any exclusion (which grows out of the love root and hardens into wood): do you recognize me like this, like this, too?
In October Rilke had engaged a young university graduate as secretary, Yevgenia Chernosvitova, to read to him the memoirs of Sergey Volkonsky in Russian, and to handle his correspondence. She eventually wrote the overdue letters to Leonid and Boris to answer their mail from months ago and release the tensions between Marina and Boris – the thoughtful Rilke.
Tsvetaeva to Rilke
August 22, 1926
Rainer, just always say yes to all that I ask for - it won't turn out so badly, after all. Rainer, if I say to you that I am your Russia, I'm only saying (one more time) that I care for you. Love lives on exceptions, segregations, exclusiveness. Love lives on words and dies of deeds. Too intelligent, I, really to try to be Russia for you! A manner of speaking. A manner of loving.
Rainer, my name has changed: all that you are, all that is you. (To be is to be lived. Etre vecu. Chose vecue. Passive.) Do you imagine that I believe in Savoy? Oh, yes, like yourself, as in the kingdom of heaven. Some time... (how? when?). What have I seen of life? Throughout my youth (from 1917 on) - black toil. Moscow? Prague? Paris? St.-Gilles? Same thing. Always stove, broom, money (none). Never any time. No woman among your acquaintances and friends lives like that, would be capable of living so. Not to sweep any more - of that is my kingdom of heaven. Plain enough? Yes, because my soil is poor enough! (Rainer, when I wrote in German "fegeii - Fegefeuer - that magnificen word - sweeping here, purgatory there, swept right into the middle of purgatory, etc., that's how I write, from the word to the thing, recreating the words poetically. This is how you write, I think.)
So, dear one, don't be afraid, simply answer yes to every "Give" - a beggar's comfort, innocent, without consequences. Most of the time my begging hand drops away - along with the gift - into the sand. What do I want from you? What I want from all of poetry and from each line of a poem: the truth of this moment. That's as far as truth goes. Never turns to wood - always to ashes. The word, which for me already is the thing, is all I want. Actions? Consequences? I know you, Rainer, as I know myself. The farther from me - the further into me. I live not in myself, but outside myself. I do not live in my lips, and he who kisses me misses me.
Savoie. (Pause for thought.) Train. Ticket. Place to stay. (Praise God, no visa!) And... faint distaste. Something prepared, won in battle ... begged for. I want you to fall from heaven. Rainer, quite seriously: if you want to see me, with your eyes, you must act - "In two weeks I'll be at such-and-such a place. Are you coming?" This must come from you. Like the date. Like the town. Look at the map. Perhaps it must be a large town? Give it some thought. Little towns are sometimes misleading. Oh, yes, one more thing: I haven't any money; the little I earn by my work (because of my "newness" printed only in the "newer" monthlies, of which in the emigration there are only two) - vanishes as soon as it is received. I wonder if you'll have enough for both of us. Rainer, as I write this I have to laugh: a strange sort of guest!
Well, then, dear one, when at some point you really want to, you write to me (a little beforehand, for I have to find somebody to stay with the children) - and I'll come. I am staying at St.-Gilles until October 1-15. Then to Paris, where I start from scratch: no money, no apartment, nothing. I'm not going back to Prague, the Czechs are angry with me for having written so much and so ardently about Germany and having been so firmly silent about Bohemia. And after all, having been subsidized by the Czechs for three and a half years (900 kronen monthly). So, some time between October 1 and 15, to Paris. We won't get together before November. But surely, it could also be somewhere in the South? (Meaning France.) Where, how, and when (from November on) you like. Placed into your hands. You can, after all... part them. I shall never love you more or less in any case.
I am looking forward to you terribly, as to a whole totally new realm.
About Boris. No, I was in the right. His answer was that of an Atlas liberated. (He, remember, carried a heaven with all its inhabitants! And, rid of this burden, he, too, sighed, it seems to me.) Now he is rid of me. Too good-natured, too compassionate, too patient. The blow had to come from me (nobody likes to terminate, to kill!). He already knew about the two Abroads. All I did was speak up, name things, break the spell. Now everything is all right, the realms separated: I in the innermost self - outermost foreign place - quite out of the world.
How much longer are you staying in Ragaz and how do you feel? What is the last thing you've written?
I take you in my arms.
This letter became the
last in their correspondence which had begun in such high
expectations. Rilke never answered. Had he become tired of Marina, or
was it because his illness had turned worse? On
November 7, 1926 Marina wrote a picture postcard to Rilke from
Bellevue, Seine et Oise: “Here is where I live. - I wonder if
you still love me?”
A week later his physicians came up with the devastating diagnosis - leukemia... There was no cure. Rilke moved into a hotel in Sierre near Muzot, and there he died on December 29, 1926.
Marina heard of Rilke's death at a New Year's party. Shattered, she revoked her ban against Boris and wrote him a letter that very night:
“Boris, Rainer Maria Rilke has died. I don't know the date – three days ago...”. She enclosed a copy of a Russian letter to Rilke from her notebook
December 31, 1926-February 8, 1927.
The year ended in your death? The end? The beginning! You yourself are the New Year. (Beloved, I know you are reading this before I write it.) I am crying, Rainer, you are streaming from my eyes!
Dear one, now that you are dead there is no death (or no life!). What can I say? That little town in Savoy - when? where? Rainer, what about that "nest" to keep our dreams in? Now Russian is an open book to you, so you know that the Russian word for "nest" is gnezdo. And you know so many other things.
I don't want to reread your letter or I will want to join you - there - and I dare not wish for such a thing. You know what such a wish implies.
Rainer, I am always conscious of your presence at my shoulder.
Did you ever think of me? Yes, of course you did.
Tomorrow is New Year's Day, Rainer. 1927. Seven is your favorite number. You were born in 1875 (newspaper date?). Fifty-one years old?
How disconsolate I am!
Don't dare to grieve! At midnight tonight I will drink with you (you know how I clink glasses - ever so lightly!).
Beloved, come to me often in my dreams. No, not that. Live in my dreams. Now you have a right to wish and to fulfill your wishes.
You and I never believed in our meeting here on earth, any more than we believed in life on this earth, isn't that so? You - have gone before me (and that is better!), and to receive me well you have taken not a room, not a house, but a whole landscape. I kiss you... on the lips? on the temple? on the forehead? Of course on the lips, for real, as if alive.
Beloved, love me more and differently from others. Don't be angry with me. You must grow accustomed to me, to such a one as I am. What else?
No, you are not yet far away and high above, you are right here, with your head on my shoulder. You will never be far away: never inaccessibly high.
You are my darling grown-up boy.
Rainer, write to me! (A foolish request?)
Happy New Year and may you enjoy the heavenly landscape!
Rainer, you are still on this earth; twenty-four hours have not yet passed.