As a continuity with last week’s post about the book Letters of Note, here is a much smaller book, without images this one, Letters of Note : Love, a collection of love letters compiled by Shaun Usher.
“First published in 2020, Letters of Note: Love is a compulsive collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and powerful letters with love at their heart, beginning with a letter of advice from parent to lovesick child that contains words of wisdom which are surely valuable for people of all ages, and the letter that led to the striking down of a ban on mixed race marriages in the United States, written by a lady with a surname so perfect as to be almost unbelievable. You will also read an acutely unromantic marriage proposal from 1866 that may induce tears of laughter and a long sigh of pity, and a desperate letter from a broken-hearted, escaped slave to the man who helped him flee his master, in which he seeks help in finding his beloved wife. And, of course, you will find numerous examples of the trusty love letter–letters to lovers, letters to the dead, letters unsent – a form of correspondence with no modern equivalent, and a flavour of letter to which millions of people owe so much.”
Contrary to Letters of Note, you can easily carry this book around since it is small and light. Also fun to shuffle through, all the letters were of interest to me, it was hard to choose which ones I would cite. A choice was made, almost randomly, and here it is :
LETTER 07 : WE FORMED ONLY ONE BEING
Maud Gonne to W.B. Yeats
Nobel Prize-winning poet W.B. Yeats proposed to Irish actress and activist Maud Gone four times in the space of a decade – in 1891, 1899, 1900 and 1901 – and each time, to his dismay, she declined. To make matters worse, she then, in 1903, dispelled the notion that marriage may have been the problem, by accepting a proposal from another man, a Major John MacBride. Still, they remained close, and Gonne was something of a muse for Yeats through the years, inspiring some of his poetry. They also shared an interest in the occult, and in July of 1908, a few months before their relationship was finally consummated. Maud wrote him a letter.
Paris 26 July, 1908 Willie It is not in a week but in a day that I am writing you. I had such a wonderful experience last night that I must know at once if it affected you & how? for above all I don't want to do any thing which will take you from your work, or make working more arduous - That play is going to be a wonderful thing & must come first - nothing must interfere with it. Last night all my household had retired at a quarter to 11 and I thought I would go to you astrally. It was not working hours for you & I thought by going to you I might even be able to leave with you some of my vitality & energy which would make working less of a toil next day - I had seen the day before when waking from sleep a curious some what Egyptian form floating over me (like in the picture of Blake the soul leaving the body) - It was dressed in moth like garments & had curious wings edged with gold in which it could fold itself up - I had thought it was myself, a body in which I could go out into the astral - at a quarter to 11 last night I put on this body & thought strongly of you & desired to go to you. We went some where in space I don't know where - I was conscious of starlight & of hearing the sea below us. You had taken the form I think of a great serpent, but I am not quite sure. I only saw your face distinctly & as I looked into your eyes (as I did the day in Paris you asked me what I was thinking of) & your lips touched mine. We melted into one another till we formed only one being, a being greater than ourselves who felt all & knew all with double intensity - the clock striking 11 broke the spell & as we separated it felt as if life was being drawn away from me through my chest with almost physical pain. I went again twice, each time it was the same - each time I was brought back by some slight noise in the house. Then I went upstairs to bed & I dreamed of you confused dreams of ordinary life. We were in Italy together (I think this was from some word in your letter which I had read again before sleeping). We were quite happy, & we talked of this wonderful spiritual vision I have described - you said it would tend to increase physical desire - This troubles me a little - for there was nothing physical in that union - Material union is but a pale shadow compared to it - write to me quickly & tell me if you know anything of this & what you think of it - & if I may come to you again like this. I shall not until I hear from you. My thought with you always. Maud Gonne
LETTER 09 : I WEEP AND WEEP AND WEEP
Nadezhda Mandelstam to Osip Mandelstam
On 13 May 1934, almost a year after reciting to some friends a satirical poem he had written on the subject of Stalin, one of the most important Russian poets of the era, Osip Mandelstam, was arrested. Luckily, he was saved from execution, and instead, upon his release, he and his wife, Nadezhda, were forced to live in exile in the Russian city of Voronezh. Their luck ran out in 1938 when the poet was arrested for a second time, and on this occasion sent to the forced labour camp in which he would eventually die. In October of 1938, two months before his death, his wife wrote him this letter. Nadezhda continued to live in exile and was unable to return to Moscow for another twenty-six years. She was finally able to tell their story in her 1970 memoir, Hope Against Hope.
22 OCTOBER 1938 Osia, my beloved, faraway sweetheart! I have no words, my darling, to write this letter that you may never read, perhaps. I am writing it into empty space. Perhaps you will come back and not find me here. Then this will be all you have left to remember me by. Osia, what a joy it was living together like children - all our squabbles and arguments, the games we played, and our love. Now I do not even look at the sky. If I see a cloud, who can I show it to? Remember the way we brought back provisions to make our poor feasts in all the places where we pitched our tent like nomads? Remember the good taste of bread when we got by a miracle and ate it together? And our last winter in Voronezh. Our happy poverty, and the poetry you wrote. I remember the time we were coming back once from the baths, when we bought some eggs or sausage, and a cart went by loaded with hay. It was still cold and I was freezing in my short jacket (but nothing like what we must suffer now: I know how cold you are). That day comes back to me now. I understand so clearly, and ache from the pain of it, that those winter days with all their troubles were the greatest and last happiness to be granted us in life. My every thought is about you. My every tear and every smile is for you. I bless every day and every hour of our bitter life together, my sweetheart, my companion, my blind guide in life. Like two blind puppies we were, nuzzling each other and feeling so good together. And how fevered your poor head was, and how madly we frittered away the days of our life. What joy it was, and how we always knew what joy it was. Life can last so long. How hard and long for each of us to die alone. Can this fate be for us who are inseparable? Puppies and children, did we deserve this? Did you deserve this, my angel? Everything goes on as before. I know nothing. Yet I know everything - each day and hour of your life are plain and clear to me as in a delirium. You came to me every night in my sleep, and I kept asking what had happened, but you did not reply. In my last dream I was buying food for you in a filthy hotel restaurant. The people with me were total strangers. When I had bought it, I realized I did not know where to take it, because I do not know where you are. When I woke up, I said to Shura: 'Osia is dead. I do not know whether you are still alive, but from the time of that dream, I have lost track of you. I do not know where you are. Will you hear me? Do you know how much I love you? I could never tell you how much I love you. I cannot tell you even now. I speak only to you, only to you. You are with me always, and I who was such a wild and angry one and never learned to weep simple tears - now I weep and weep and weep. It's me: Nadia. Where are you? Farewell. Nadia