François-Marie Banier, Beckett
Photography by François-Marie Banier
"...Мартын был из тeх людей, для которых хорошая книжка перед сном - драгоцeнное блаженство. Такой человeк, вспомнив случайно днем, среди обычных своих дeл, что на ночном столикe, в полной сохранности, ждет книга, - чувствует прилив неизъяснимого счастья." (Владимир Набоков, "Подвиг")
Ад живых — это не что-то, что наступит, если такое и существует, то оно уже здесь; ад, в котором мы живем каждый день, который мы делаем, находясь вместе. Есть два способа не страдать от него. Первый многим дается легко: принять ад и стать его частью до такой степени, чтобы уже его больше и не видеть. Второй — рискованный и требует постоянных бдительности и изучения: искать и уметь распознавать — кто и что посреди этого ада, адом не является, и делать так, чтобы они продолжались, и создавать для них место.
Итало Кальвино (1923-1985), «Невидимые города» (1972)
“Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost.
Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples.
Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know.
Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany’s guilt.” The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as “the moment of truth,” “charisma,” “existential” (used seriously), “dialogue” (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber).
Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist.
One of poshlost’s favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, Death in Venice. You see the range.”
Артур Кестлер (Arthur Koestler, 5 Sep 1905 - 3 Mar 1983; a Hungarian-British author and journalist. In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukaemia. In 1983 he and his wife committed suicide at their home in London.)
В нашумевшем эссе «Человек — ошибка эволюции» (1969), ссылаясь на психологические исследования доктора Мак-Лина, полагал, что «природа наделила человека тремя мозгами, которые, несмотря на полнейшее несходство, должны совместно функционировать и быть в постоянном контакте друг с другом. Древнейший из этих мозгов по сути своей — мозг пресмыкающегося. Второй достался ему от млекопитающих, а третий — достижение высших млекопитающих, именно он сделал человека человеком».
Далее Кестлер пишет: «Мозг пресмыкающегося и мозг простейшего млекопитающего образуют так называемую вегетативную нервную систему, которую мы будем называть старым мозгом, в противоположность неокортексу — чисто человеческому «мыслительному аппарату», куда входят участки, ведающие языком (речью), а также абстрактным и символическим мышлением… Неокортекс человекообразных развился в последние полмиллиона лет, начиная с середины четвертичного периода, он развился со скоростью взрыва, насколько нам известно, беспримерного в истории эволюции. Однако взрывы не ведут к гармоническим последствиям». Результатом этого явилось то, что новые участки мозга не сжились как следует с другими, более старыми, и такой эволюционный промах создал широкий простор для всевозможных конфликтов. Кестлер утверждал, что эволюция схалтурила, «недовинтив какие-то гайки между неокортексом и мозжечком».
В результате нашему биологическому виду вполне присуща своего рода шизофрения, которая и порождает в существенной степени противоречия между животным (инстинктивным) и человеческим (разумным). Этой дихотомии мы, во многом, обязаны несоответствием между нашим эмоциональным и интеллектуальным поведением.
• I am a personal optimist but a skeptic about all else. What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction. And please don't confuse my point of view with cynicism; the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything's gonna be all right.
• We are so lonely in life that we must ask ourselves if the loneliness of dying is not a symbol of our human existence.
• Only those are happy who never think or, rather, who only think about life's bare necessities, and to think about such things means not to think at all.
• One of the biggest paradoxes of our world: memories vanish when we want to remember, but fix themselves permanently in the mind when we want to forget.
• Bach: a scale of tears upon which our desires for God ascend. […] If there is anyone who owes everything to Bach, it is certainly God.
• In each letter I send to a Japanese friend, I have got into the habit of recommending one or another work by Brahms. She has just written that she is leaving a Tokyo clinic where she was taken by ambulance for having excessively sacrificed to my idol. I wonder which trio, which sonata was responsible. It doesn’t matter. Whatever induces collapse is thereby deserving of being listened to.
• Man starts over again everyday, in spite of all he knows, against all he knows.
• How important can it be that I suffer and think? My presence in this world will disturb a few tranquil lives and will unsettle the unconscious and pleasant naiveté of others. Although I feel that my tragedy is the greatest in history—greater than the fall of empires—I am nevertheless aware of my total insignificance. I am absolutely persuaded that I am nothing in this universe; yet I feel that mine is the only real existence.
• A stroll through Montparnasse Cemetery. All, young or old, made plans. They make no more. Strengthened by their example, I swear as a good pupil, returning, never to make any myself — ever. Undeniably beneficial outing.
• I ponder C., for whom drinking in a cafe was the sole reason to exist. One day when I was eloquently vaunting Buddhism to him, he replied, “Well, yes, nirvana, all right, but not without a cafe.” We all have some mania or other that keeps us from unconditionally accepting supreme happiness.
• The more one has suffered, the less one demands. To protest is a sign one has traversed no hell.
• According to a Chinese sage, a single hour of happiness is all that a centenarian could acknowledge after carefully reflecting upon the vicissitudes of his existence. . . .
• Music is everything. God himself is nothing more than an acoustic hallucination. […] Except for music, everything is a lie, even solitude, even ecstasy. Music, in fact, is the one and the other, only better.
• Only those moments count, when the desire to remain by yourself is so powerful that you'd prefer to blow your brains out than exchange a word with someone.
• When people come to me saying they want to kill themselves, I tell them, “What’s your rush? You can kill yourself any time you like. So calm down. Suicide is a positive act.” And they do calm down.
• Read day and night, devour books—these sleeping pills—not to know but to forget! Through books you can retrace your way back to the origins of spleen, discarding history and its illusions.
• Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out everyday: Massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without hating each other to death?
• For animals, life is all there is; for man, life is a question mark. An irreversible question mark, for man has never found, nor will ever find, any answers. Life not only has no meaning; it can never have one.
• To be “happy” you must constantly bear in mind the miseries you have escaped. This would be a way for memory to redeem itself, since ordinarily it preserves only disasters, eager — and with what success! — to sabotage happiness.
• History: a context in which the capital letters decompose, and with them, the men who imagine and cherish them.
• Everything I have undertaken, everything I have expatiated upon all my life is inseparable from what I have lived. I invented nothing. I've been the one and only secretary of my own sensations.
Emil Cioran; Goodreads
Западногерманский писатель и журналист Михаэль Якоб взял это интервью (на французском языке) в 1986 г., по-немецки оно опубликовано в 1994-м. Здесь переведено по книге: Cioran. Entretiens. Paris, 1995.
— Что если начать с вашего румынского детства? Вы его хорошо помните?
— Я его прекрасно помню. Я родился в Решинари, карпатской деревне, в 12 километрах от Сибиу-Германштадта. Ту деревню я любил больше всего на свете. В десять лет я покинул ее, уехал в Сибиу, поступать в лицей, и в жизни не забуду день, даже час, когда отец увез меня оттуда. Мы ехали в двуколке, я плакал, всю дорогу плакал, потому что чувствовал: мой рай закончился навсегда...
— Вас, можно сказать, буквально оторвали от родной земли?
— От земли и от всего первозданного мира, который я так любил, и от тамошнего чувства свободы. Я оказался в Сибиу, довольно крупном австро-венгерском городе — пограничном, с множеством военных. В нем — и, надо сказать, вполне мирно — уживались три национальности: немцы, румыны и венгры. Как ни странно, потом это не забылось: мне и теперь тяжело в городах, где говорят лишь на одном языке, меня тут же берет тоска...
— Вы и позднее не раз отрывались от почвы?
— Да, много раз. Сначала я был вынужден расстаться с детством. А потом и со своей жизнью в Сибиу. Чем он оказался для меня так важен? Тем, что в Сибиу я пережил свою главную драму, она потом длилась много лет и оставила во мне след на всю жизнь. Все, что я позднее написал, придумал, развил, все мои метания уходят корнями в ту драму: примерно в двадцать лет я потерял сон. Помню, как я часами расхаживал по городу — Сибиу очень красивый город, немецкий, построенный в средние века. Так вот, я выходил из дому в полночь и просто бродил по улицам, где было лишь несколько проституток да я, и больше никого, тишина, захолустье. Я часами шатался по улицам, как тень, и все, что я потом написал, передумано тогдашними ночами. Моя первая книга, «На вершинах отчаяния» [1934 год, на румынском], относится как раз к тому времени. Я написал ее в двадцать два года, написал как завещание, потому что решил покончить с собой. Но остался жить. Никаким делом я тогда не занимался, и это было самое важное. Ведь поскольку ночами я не спал, а разгуливал по городу, то днем мало на что годился и работать не мог. К тому времени у меня уже был диплом, я закончил философский факультет в Бухаресте и прочее, но я не мог служить учителем: попробуйте после бессонной ночи паясничать перед школьниками, мороча им голову тем, что вас совершенно не интересует. Вот из тех ночей и сложился потом мой взгляд на мир...
— Страдающий бессонницей по-другому переживает время?
— Абсолютно. Он живет в другом времени и в другом мире, поскольку нашу жизнь можно переносить лишь при одном условии: благодаря перерывам. В конце концов, для чего люди спят? Для того, чтобы не просто отдохнуть, но и забыться. Тому, кто встает утром, проспав всю ночь, кажется, что жизнь словно бы начинается заново. А для того, кто не сомкнул глаз, ничего не начинается. В восемь утра он ровно тот же, что в восемь вечера, и это неминуемо переиначивает весь взгляд на вещи. Думаю, именно по этой причине я никогда не верил в прогресс, никогда не дурачил себя подобными бреднями...
— И тоска эта составная часть особого, другого переживания времени?
— Именно. Тоска всегда связана со временем, с ужасом времени, страхом времени, откровением времени, сознанием времени. Те, кто не чувствителен к времени, не чувствует и тоски; жизнь можно переносить, только если не сознаешь, как убегает каждый миг, иначе ты пропал. Опыт тоски — это обостренное сознание времени...
— А почему вы приняли решение писать по-французски?
— Я решил никогда не возвращаться в Румынию. Для меня там все кончилось, все было, в самом точном смысле слова, уже в прошлом. Шел 1936 год, я жил тогда на море, неподалеку от Дьеппа, пытался переводить Малларме. И вдруг сказал себе: «Нет, это не для меня», — и тут же решил перейти на французский. Как ни странно, до того времени я не слишком интересовался французским, зато очень налегал на английский, даже учился в Сорбонне, готовился стать преподавателем английского.
Писать по-французски — как я совершенно внезапно решил — оказалось куда трудней, чем можно было подумать. Это была настоящая мука. Свою первую французскую книгу я переписывал четыре раза, от вида букв меня уже тошнило. Закончив «Уроки распада», я сказал себе, что не вижу больше ни малейшего смысла так изводиться. «Горькие силлогизмы» написались по инерции. Я не мог взять в толк, зачем составляю фразы и т.д. Но, как бы там ни было, дело шло, к тому же Полан [Полан Жан (1884—1968) — французский писатель, главный редактор авторитетного журнала «Нувель ревю франсез» в 1925-1968 гг. (с перерывами)] все время просил меня дать ему что-нибудь для «НРФ». Чтобы потом казнить себя за это, я согласился, дальше нужно было держать слово, и так я попал в шестерни. Я полностью принял свое положение на обочине. Я оставался совершенно не известным, но, в конечном счете, это было не лишено и своих прелестей. Да, годами вести писательскую жизнь, жизнь писателя без читателей, видеться лишь с несколькими людьми и больше ни с кем, — это, конечно, не всегда приятно в плане практическом, зато это было временем настоящего писательства: как будто пишешь для себя одного...
— Вы говорили, что больше не пишете. По-вашему, так будет продолжаться и дальше?
— Не знаю. Но, может быть, я вообще больше не буду писать. Я с ужасом смотрю на все эти каждый день выходящие тома... на авторов, выпускающих по книге, а то и по две в год... это какой-то психоз. Сам для себя я не вижу больше смысла писать, надо все-таки уметь вовремя остановиться. Меня это уже не захватывает. Нужен хотя бы минимум воодушевления, нужно чего-то ждать. Так что я говорю себе: ты достаточно препирался с миром и с Богом. Хватит.
Перевод с французского Бориса Дубина
Эпиктет: «Счастье — не в достижении и не в наслаждении достигнутым, а в отсутствии желаний». Мудрость определяет себя через противоположность Желанию, поскольку стремится поднять нас над обычными разочарованиями, равно как и над разочарованиями непоправимыми, ведь и те, и другие неразлучны с желанием, ожиданием, надеждой. Прежде всего, она хочет уберечь нас от главных жизненных разочарований — в этом смысле, мудрость совершенствуется в искусстве не уступать «жребию», а то и переигрывать судьбу. Из всех древних дальше всех в подобном искусстве пошли стоики.
С приходом христианства мудрец перестает быть примером. Он уступает свое почетное место святому — мудрецу периода потрясений, почему и более доступному для понимания масс.
Только что прочитал в биографии Чехова, что больше всего рукописных помет он оставил в книге Марка Аврелия.
Деталь, которая разом озарила для меня всё.
Что-то от меня зависит, а что-то нет, но как это разграничить? Я не возьмусь.
[...] Невозможно знать, когда и в чем ты свободен, а когда и в чем закрепощен. Если всякий раз доискиваться до точной природы своих действий, дойдешь не до конца, а до головокружения. Из чего следует, что если бы проблема свободы воли имела решение, философии незачем бы стало существовать.
Фокусничанье с важным видом, вот что такое философия. Но, в конце концов, все на свете фокусничанье, кроме слов, относящихся к тому порядку утверждений, который обычно не решаются пускать в ход, поскольку питающая их достоверность неподначальна разуму и существовала задолго до того, как человек взялся за ум.
В молодости я мечтал перевернуть мир. Теперь я в возрасте, когда о переворотах больше не мечтают: мир перевернул меня. А что лежит между двумя этими крайними точками? Можно сказать, ничего — или всё: неописуемая убежденность, что ты не тот и никогда уже не будешь прежним.
Каждый уходящий уносит с собой целый мир: разом умирает всё, совершенно всё. Высшим судом смерть узаконена и реабилитирована. Так уйдем же без сожалений, поскольку после нас не остается ничего. Единственная и неповторимая реальность это наше сознание: упраздняется оно, упраздняется и все остальное, даже если мы знаем, что, говоря объективно, это неправда, и как на самом деле мы ничего не берем с собой, так ничто и не исчезает вместе с нами.
В парке — табличка: «В соответствии с состоянием (возрастом и болезнью) деревьев будет предприниматься их пересадка».
И здесь конфликт поколений! Простой факт существования, даже растительного, и тот отмечен знаком гибели. Нет, дышать можно, только если забываешь, что ты жив.
Кажется, в Китае существует (или, скорее, существовало, настолько это отдает прошлым) такое тонкое удовольствие для самых изощренных, как внимательное прислушивание к тиканью часов. Подобная — на первый взгляд, столь материальная — поглощенность Временем есть, на самом деле, упражнение высоко философское, предаваясь которому достигаешь чудесных результатов в настоящем, именно в настоящем.
Так называемые простые люди, не желающие думать о конце, в общем правы — особенно если посмотреть, на что похожи те, кто лишь этими мыслями и занят.
Мы забываем о теле, а вот тело о нас не забывает. Проклятая память внутренностей!
Неповторимость любого существа неотрывна от его собственной манеры заблуждаться.
Первейшая заповедь — невмешательство: пусть каждый живет и умирает, как считает нужным, словно ему выпало счастье не походить ни на кого, быть этаким священным идолом. Оставьте ближних такими, каковы они есть, и они ответят вам признательностью.
У любого больного больше мыслей, чем у так называемого мыслителя. Болезнь это разделение целого, стало быть — рефлексия. Она всегда отрезает нас от чего-то, а порой и ото всего. Даже последний идиот, пронзенный чувством острейшей боли, тем самым возвышается над собственным идиотизмом, он осознаёт свое чувство и, почувствовав, что это он страдает, становится выше своего чувства, может быть, выше себя самого. Точно так же и животные должны обладать тем или иным уровнем сознания в зависимости от болезни, которой мучаются.
«Злословие, — провозглашает Талмуд, — грех столь же тяжкий, как идолопоклонство, кровосмешение и убийство». Допустим. Но если можно прожить жизнь не убивая, не ложась в постель со своей матерью и не кадя золотому тельцу, то как вы ухитритесь протянуть день, не ненавидя своего ближнего и себя в его лице?
Все-таки это чудовищное, хотя и переносимое унижение — нести в себе кровь народа, который никого и никогда не заставил о себе говорить.
Даже не в стихотворении, а в афоризме — вот где слово превыше всего.
В конце концов, старость это наказание за прожитую жизнь.
Если бы я ослеп, больше всего меня, думаю, удручало бы то, что я не могу теперь до полного одурения смотреть на плывущие облака.
Все утро какое-то странное самочувствие: желание высказаться, строить планы, диктовать заповеди, работать. Бред, восторг, упоение, неукротимый подъем духа. К счастью, скоро наваливается усталость и возвращает мне благоразумие, призывает к порядку, к обычному ежеминутному ничтожеству.
В повседневной тоске нет никаких желаний, даже охоты плакать. Другое дело — тоска, дошедшая до края: она побуждает что-то сделать, а плач — тоже действие.
По шумерской мифологии, потопом боги наказали человека за то, что от него слишком много шума. Хотел бы я видеть, что они с ним сделали бы за нынешний гвалт!
Время, соучастник губителей, плевать хотело на мораль. Кого теперь возмущает Навуходоносор?
Китайская пословица: «Стоит одной собаке залаять на шорох, и десять тысяч собак превратят его в гром». Для эпиграфа к любому рассуждению об идеологиях.
Любая утопия, становясь реальностью, напоминает похабный сон.
Эмиль Мишель Чоран – Разлад (Écartèlement, Paris, 1979)//
Фрагменты книги. Вступительная заметка и перевод с французского Бориса Дубина
Цитаты из дневников, интервью и книг Чорана:
• Мне нечего сказать людям, а всё, что говорят они, меня не интересует. И при этом я — человек, несомненно, общительный, поскольку оживаю только среди других.
• Чем больше читаешь — а читаю я слишком много! — тем чаще говоришь себе «нет, не то», а «то самое» опять улетучивается из книг, которые одну за другой поглощает твоя лень.
Ведь «то самое» нужно найти в себе, а не вовне. А в себе находишь одну неуверенность да рассуждения по поводу этой неуверенности.
• Из писателей я могу читать только самых больных, тех, у кого каждая страница, каждая строка освещена болезнью. Я ценю здоровье как усилие воли, а не как наследство или дар.
• Россия! Я всем существом тянусь к этой стране, которая превратила в ничто мою родину.
• Д., которому я рассказал, что вот уже тридцать лет живу в номерах и умудряюсь нигде не пускать корни, с гордостью еврея назвал меня «вечным гоем».
• Два величайших мудреца древности, идущей к концу: Эпиктет и Марк Аврелий, раб и император. Не устаю возвращаться мыслью к этой паре. Самое слабое и недолговечное у Марка Аврелия — от стоицизма, самое глубокое и прочное — от его тоски, иными словами — от забвения всяческих уроков. (То же самое — у Паскаля).
• Глоток кофе и сигаретная затяжка — вот мои настоящие родители. Теперь я не курю, не пью кофе и чувствую себя обездоленным сиротой. Меня лишили достояния: яда, того яда, который давал мне силу работать.
• Я думал, что стану пьяницей. Я был почти в этом уверен. И мне нравилось состояние бессознательности, эта безумная гордость пьяницы. И я много любовался обычными алкоголиками в Решинари, которые каждый день были пьяны, пьяны, пьяны. Среди них был скрипач, который проходил мимо меня и играл, я бесконечно им любовался. Все люди работали в поле, а он был единственным на улице, кто приходил со скрипкой и пел. Я тогда бесконечно восхищался им, это был единственный интересный человек во всей деревне. Все что-то делают, и только он один веселится. Но через два года этот пьяница умер. Это был единственный человек, который что-то понял, осознал.
. . .You see that big nail to the right of the front door? I can scarcely look at it even now and yet I could not bear to take it out. I should like to think it was there always even after my time. I sometimes hear the next people saying, "There must have been a cage hanging from there." And it comforts me; I feel he is not quite forgotten.
. . .You cannot imagine how wonderfully he sang. It was not like the singing of other canaries. And that isn't just my fancy. Often, from the window, I used to see people stop at the gate to listen, or they would lean over the fence by the mock-orange for quite a long time —carried away. I suppose it sounds absurd to you—it wouldn't if you had heard him—but it really seemed to me that he sang whole songs with a beginning and an end to them.
For instance, when I'd finished the house in the afternoon, and changed my blouse and brought my sewing on to the verandah here, he used to hop, hop, hop from one perch to another, tap against the bars as if to attract my attention, sip a little water just as a professional singer might, and then break into a song so exquisite that I had to put my needle down to listen to him. I can't describe it; I wish I could. But it was always the same, every afternoon, and I felt that I understood every note of it.
...I loved him. How I loved him! Perhaps it does not matter so very much what it is one loves in this world. But love something one must. Of course there was always my little house and the garden, but for some reason they were never enough. Flowers respond wonderfully, but they don't sympathise. Then I loved the evening star. Does that sound foolish? I used to go into the backyard, after sunset, and wait for it until it shone above the dark gum tree. I used to whisper "There you are, my darling." And just in that first moment it seemed to be shining for me alone. It seemed to understand this . . . something which is like longing, and yet it is not longing. Or regret— it is more like regret. And yet regret for what? I have much to be thankful for.
. . . But after he came into my life I forgot the evening star; I did not need it any more. But it was strange. When the Chinaman who came to the door with birds to sell held him up in his tiny cage, and instead of fluttering, fluttering, like the poor little goldfinches, he gave a faint, small chirp, I found myself saying, just as I had said to the star over the gum tree, "There you are, my darling." From that moment he was mine.
...It surprises me even now to remember how he and I shared each other's lives. The moment I came down in the morning and took the cloth off his cage he greeted me with a drowsy little note. I knew it meant "Missus! Missus!" Then I hung him on the nail outside while I got my three young men their breakfasts, and I never brought him in until we had the house to ourselves again. Then, when the washing-up was done, it was quite a little entertainment. I spread a newspaper over a corner of the table and when I put the cage on it he used to beat with his wings despairingly, as if he didn't know what was coming. "You're a regular little actor," I used to scold him. I scraped the tray, dusted it with fresh sand, filled his seed and water tins, tucked a piece of chickweed and half a chili between the bars. And I am perfectly certain he understood and appreciated every item of this little performance. You see by nature he was exquisitely neat. There was never a speck on his perch. And you'd only to see him enjoy his bath to realise he had a real small passion for cleanliness. His bath was put in last. And the moment it was in he positively leapt into it. First he fluttered one wing, then the other, then he ducked his head and dabbled his breast feathers. Drops of water were scattered all over the kitchen, but still he would not get out. I used to say to him, "Now that's quite enough. You're only showing off." And at last out he hopped and, standing on one leg, he began to peck himself dry. Finally he gave a shake, a flick, a twitter and he lifted his throat— Oh, I can hardly bear to recall it. I was always cleaning the knives at the time. And it almost seemed to me the knives sang too, as I rubbed them bright on the board.
. . .Company, you see— that was what he was. Perfect company. If you have lived alone you will realise how precious that is. Of course there were my three young men who came in to supper every evening, and sometimes they stayed in the dining-room afterwards reading the paper. But I could not expect them to be interested in the little things that made my day. Why should they be? I was nothing to them. In fact, I overheard them one evening talking about me on the stairs as "the Scarecrow." No matter. It doesn't matter. Not in the least. I quite understand. They are young. Why should I mind? But I remember feeling so especially thankful that I was not quite alone that evening. I told him, after they had gone out. I said "Do you know what they call Missus?" And he put his head on one side and looked at me with his little bright eye until I could not help laughing. It seemed to amuse him.
. . .Have you kept birds? If you haven't all this must sound, perhaps, exaggerated. People have the idea that birds are heartless, cold little creatures, not like dogs or cats. My washerwoman used to say on Mondays when she wondered why I didn't keep "a nice fox terrier," "There's no comfort, Miss, in a canary." Untrue. Dreadfully untrue. I remember one night. I had had a very awful dream— dreams can be dreadfully cruel— even after I had woken up I could not get over it. So I put on my dressing-gown and went down to the kitchen for a glass of water. It was a winter night and raining hard. I suppose I was still half asleep, but through the kitchen window, that hadn't a blind, it seemed to me the dark was staring in, spying. And suddenly I felt it was unbearable that I had no one to whom I could say "I've had such a dreadful dream," or—or "Hide me from the dark." I even covered my face for a minute. And then there came a little "Sweet! Sweet!" His cage was on the table, and the cloth had slipped so that a chink of light shone through. "Sweet! Sweet!" said the darling little fellow again, softly, as much as to say, "I'm here, Missus! I'm here!" That was so beautifully comforting that I nearly cried.
. . . And now he's gone. I shall never have another bird, another pet of any kind. How could I? When I found him, lying on his back, with his eye dim and his claws wrung, when I realised that never again should I hear my darling sing, something seemed to die in me. My heart felt hollow, as if it was his cage. I shall get over it. Of course. I must. One can get over anything in time. And people always say I have a cheerful disposition. They are quite right. I thank my God I have.
. . . All the same, without being morbid, and giving way to—to memories and so on, I must confess that there does seem to me something sad in life. It is hard to say what it is. I don't mean the sorrow that we all know, like illness and poverty and death. No, it is something different. It is there, deep down, deep down, part of one, like one's breathing. However hard I work and tire myself I have only to stop to know it is there, waiting. I often wonder if everybody feels the same. One can never know. But isn't it extraordinary that under his sweet, joyful little singing it was just this— sadness ? —Ah, what is it ? —that I heard.
Katherine Mansfield - The Canary
From “The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories” (1923)
Illustration - "First Light" by Harold Harvey (1874–1941)
Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran by Michel Jakob (1986)
Q: I should like to try and to begin with something that lies far in the past, with Romania, with your growing-up between nations, between Romania, Hungary, and Germany... . Is anything of your childhood still present to you?
Cioran: It is quite extraordinarily present to me. I was born in a village in the Carpathians, twelve kilometers distant from Sibiu-Hermannstadt, and I loved this village intensely. When I had to leave it at the age of ten to go to the gymnasium in Sibiu, my world collapsed. I will never forget the day, or, rather, the hour in which my father brought me to Sibiu: we had rented a horse-drawn wagon for the purpose and I wept during the entire journey, wept incessantly, for I had a sort of premonition that Paradise had been lost. This village in the mountains, you see, had for me as a boy an enormous advantage: after breakfast I could simply disappear until midday and an hour after lunch I disappeared again. I wandered through the mountains, went simply everywhere, and this state of affairs lasted until, as I said, my tenth year.
There was another “advantage”: when my parents, as Romanians, were deported by Hungary during the war, we children, my sister, my brother, and I, stayed with my grandmother and with her we were really completely free. It was an ideal epoch for me. During this time I loved the peasants, the shepherds, more than anything. I had a real passion for them and when I had to leave that world, I had the clear premonition that something irretrievable had been destroyed. I wept and wept; I will never be able to forget it as long as I live.
Sibiu was just twelve, or at the most fourteen, kilometers from my native village of Rasinari, but I knew quite certainly that a catastrophe had occurred.
Q: When one hears you speak like this, one has the impression that you were completely ripped out of your native soil.
Cioran: Not only from the soil, but also from that primitive world, which I loved tremendously, and from the feeling of freedom that was, for me, tied up with it.
So I went to Sibiu, which at that time was a very important border-city in imperial Hungary, with an infinite number of soldiers. It was above all a city of three nationalities: Germans, Romanians, and Hungarians, who, I would say, lived together without drama. This situation, by the way, marked me forever, so that I can live in no city in which only one language is spoken; it would be impossible and I would be bored to death right away. There in Sibiu I learned to cherish the differences among the three cultures that existed side by side, although to be precise, one ought to say that the principal culture was the German, and the Romanian and Hungarian limped behind as a kind of slave-culture.
After the First World War these cultures wanted to free themselves, which they could accomplish only slowly, for they were still more or less in the throes of being formed. In Sibiu, then, I slowly found my way around and discovered there, among other things, a German library, which later, particularly during my student years, was to be of great significance. So I gradually became familiar with Sibiu and after Paris—except for my native village—it is the city that I love best in the world, or, more precisely, that I loved the best. And if the term “nostalgia” has any meaning at all, it means having to leave a city like Sibiu or one’s native village. Basically, the primitive world is a genuine world, a world in which everything is possible and nothing is actualized.
...after the loss of my childhood I had to change my way of life in Sibiu from the ground up. There began the drama that was to be with me for many years and marked my entire life, everything that I have written, thought, and planned, simply everything. All my broodings have their origin in that drama.
When I was about twenty years old, I lost my sleep and I am of the opinion that this is the greatest tragedy that can befall someone. It is much worse than sitting in prison, a thousand times worse. On account of this painful discovery, however, the wakeful nights of Sibiu were among the most adventurous moments of my entire life. I roamed the streets of the city for hours on end—the city is, by the way, marvelously beautiful, a medieval German city—I went out of the house at about midnight or later and roamed through the alleys. And there were only a few lunatics and me, all alone in the entire city, in which absolute silence reigned. For hours I strayed like a kind of phantom through the streets and everything that I thought in consequence and later composed was “born” during those nights.
At that time I also wrote my first book with the title Per culmea disperarii, that is, "On the Heights of Despair". This book was something of a twenty-two-year-old’s testament and I thought that, after this book, I would commit suicide. That it never came to that point has a specific reason: the fact that I had no profession kept me from it. Because I could not sleep at night and roamed about through the city, I was naturally useless during the day and could therefore practice no profession (which for me has always been very important). I had in fact ended my studies in philosophy, had an MA and so forth, but I could not teach. If one stays awake all night, one cannot hold one’s ground before students. The nights of Sibiu thus became the source of my view of the world.
[...] another important experience that I had as a twenty-year-old. I must say beforehand that my mother was not religious, which perhaps had to do with my father’s profession as a minister. She was, in any case, a much more independent spirit than my father. Anyway, I remember very precisely, and that I do shows how extraordinarily important this experience was for me and still is, that we, my mother and I, were alone in the house one afternoon and suddenly I threw myself on a sofa and said: “I cannot live any longer. I simply can’t bear it,” whereupon my mother replied, “Had I known that at the time, I would have aborted you.” That made a tremendous impression on me; not, however, a negative impression in any way. Instead of being shocked, I merely smiled. The scene was a sort of revelation for me. The experience of having been an accident and not a necessity meant a certain liberation for me and this feeling has had a continuous effect to this day.
My mother read, by the way, the things I wrote in Romanian and she more or less accepted them, while my father was obviously very unhappy about them. He was a believer, not fanatical in his belief, to be sure, but it was a faith that his profession as a minister simply brought with it. Everything that I wrote bothered him and he didn’t know how to react. But my mother understood me. Oddly enough, I almost despised my mother until the day she said to me that for her there was nothing in the world but Johann Sebastian Bach. From that moment on I knew that we were alike and I have in fact inherited some of her failings and with them, perhaps, other qualities as well.
[...] You see, life is basically quite simple: people get up in the morning, work, are tired after work and go to sleep, wake up again, and begin a new day. The extraordinary thing about sleeplessness is that it affords no discontinuity. Sleep breaks up the state of waking life, but for the sleepless one, who remains lucid in the middle of the night, there is no difference between day and night. He lives in a kind of ceaseless, endless time. It is another time and another world.
Life in essence can only be sustained because of the discontinuity. Why else does one sleep? Not to rest, but above all to forget. A person who wakes up after a night of unbroken sleep has the illusion of beginning something new. When one instead remains awake the whole night long, nothing new begins. At 8 in the morning one is in the same condition as at 8 at night and one’s perspective on things is naturally completely different.
I think that the fact that I have never believed in progress, that I have never allowed myself to be seduced by “progress,” has to do with that. One has simply a completely different attitude toward time: not time that passes, but time that will not go away. That alters a life, naturally. If one could prevent mankind from sleeping, I am convinced that a massacre without end would ensue; it would mean the end of history.
In any event, this phenomenon opened my eyes once and for all and my vision of things is the result of this years-long wakefulness. I might almost call it, although it may sound pretentious, the wakefulness of the spirit. I should perhaps add that I had studied philosophy and loved philosophy more than anything. I even loved philosophical language; I was completely infatuated with philosophical terminology. And this naive superstitious belief in philosophy was simply washed away by sleeplessness, for I saw that there philosophy could not help me at all; it had no power to make my life more bearable.
Shestov played a great part in my life, but I must by rights add that he was popular in Romania, a fact that is unknown in the West.
I love everything that Dostoievski produced. To tell the truth, at that time I loved only the great writers who were ill. A writer who is not in some way ill is for me almost automatically a writer of the second rank.
With this book [Of Tears and the Saints, 1937] about the saints a very unusual state of affairs developed in my life. I was at that time in Kronstadt-Brasov and it was the only year in my whole life that I went after a job. I taught philosophy in a gymnasium and thus all of a sudden had a profession, a position, which for me had appeared impossible. I constantly had but one idea in my head: to abandon the teaching profession, to go to France in order to escape from this impossible situation. For even though I had passed all the examinations to become a gymnasium teacher, my time in Brasov was a catastrophe. There were unbelievable altercations with students, colleagues, and the director of the school; in short, with all the world. And in this same year, 1937, in which I also underwent a religious crisis, I wrote Of Tears and the Saints. It was a very important experience for me, for with this book I comprehended that there would be no future for me in religion; it became clear that religion was neither the spiritual nor the philosophical way for me. [...] For me it had to do with something fundamental, for I lost at that time a very decisive illusion. Even today I cannot quite insist that I was completely unreligious, but I am sure of one thing at least: the impossibility of being able to believe.
[...] Bach is a god to me. Someone who does not understand Bach is lost; it is actually unimaginable, though it does happen. I believe that music is the only branch of art that has the capacity to construct a deep complicity between two human beings. Not poetry, only music. Someone who is insensitive to music suffers from an enormous handicap. That is simply the case and it is completely normal for music to construct a bond between people. It is unthinkable that they hear anything by Schumann or Bach, anything that they love, without being stirred. But I can understand how someone might dislike this or that poet.
I listen to music all the time, especially now that I have stopped writing. I don’t feel that it is worth the effort to continue, and music more than makes up for this dryness. To live without music would be a torment for me, an absurdity. One can very well not write. One ought not to write, because one desires, without admitting it, to bring about through words what only music can accomplish. An emotion whose origin is musical gets lost in verbal transposition, whereas in the music it reveals its sense directly. Why should one write anymore, in that case, and why write at all, why always want to add to the immense number of books, why want to become an author at any price? These days, too much has already been written. We live in a period of absurd and completely unnecessary overproduction. The whole world writes these days, especially in Paris. I myself originally thought that I would write only a little, but one allows oneself, unfortunately, to be seduced. Nevertheless, I now understand that I can no longer play out this comedy. Earlier on it had nothing to do with comedy; it was a kind of necessity for me. It offered me the possibility of acquitting myself, for the only way to simplify everything is to express oneself.
I have noticed, by the way, that those who do not write have more resources, because they store up everything within themselves. To have written something down means to have dragged it out of oneself, to have uttered definitively everything that came from inside. A writer is someone who gives away that which is most original to him, finally losing, in this manner, his whole substance. That is why writers are so uninteresting as a rule and I mean that quite seriously: writers are people who have exhausted themselves.
[...] I was always ready to refuse any kind of impersonal work, except for physical activity. I could have easily accepted being a street sweeper, but never some kind of second-rate writing job, journalism and the like.
Thus I had to do everything I could, as one might put it, not to earn my living. Every form of humiliation is preferable to loss of freedom and that has always been, by the way, something like the program of my way of life. I had accommodated my way of life in Paris to this demand very well, although it didn’t always work out just as I planned it. For example, I enrolled as a student at the Sorbonne for a year and could eat at the Mensa, until I was 40 years old. When I turned 40, someone took me aside to tell me that there was an age limit of 27. With one blow, all my plans were brought to nothing. I lived at that time in a hotel not far from my present address, in a mansard room, which I liked very much, and when I came home after this news, I said to myself, “This is very serious,” because I didn’t have the means to eat in a restaurant and I really didn’t know which end was up. I won’t say that it finally represented a true turning point in my life, but it was an incident that complicated things, since I had sworn to myself to do anything not to have to work.
I still had my hotel room, an exquisite lodging on rue Monsieur le Prince, which I loved to idolatry and really cost practically nothing. Nevertheless, as if that were not enough, I saw one day that all the renters were beginning to be thrown out, except for me, because I knew the owner and he simply didn’t dare to put me out on the street. I knew, though, that it would happen one day, and I decided to find something new without fail, or it would have meant the end. This happened in 1960 and I had just published a book, with the title History and Utopia. I knew a lady who was in real estate and who had once promised to help me. I therefore sent this woman, whom I knew only fleetingly, my book and only three days later I had the apartment I am still living in, for a ridiculous monthly rent. It’s the old Paris rent system with frozen prices, and the owners simply can’t do anything about it, which is actually exceptionally unjust. But for me, who fears getting old, this was a very important thing and in this way I was able to solve a great problem without having to go near a regular job.
One doesn’t live altogether in Paradise—pardon me—as a parasite! Naturally I apprehended that I had to write, that it somehow answered a deeper requirement.
[...] to be unknown can sometimes also have something very bitter about it, it is fundamentally a blessing. At one time I liked to drink whiskey and because I naturally could not allow myself to buy a bottle, I went to literary salons, where I was introduced for years as the friend of Ionesco and Beckett. But it was a very pleasant situation and why then should one want to be famous?
In the summer of 1936 I was in Dieppe, at the seashore, and I tried at that time to translate Маllarmё into Romanian. All of a sudden it became clear to me that my undertaking was senseless, because I had no talent for translation. And almost in the same moment I undertook from then on to write only in French. Oddly, until that time I had neglected French in Paris. I had studied a lot of English and had also taken a number of courses in English literature. But my sudden decision to write in French turned out in the first instance to be much more difficult than I had originally thought. The work on my first book, Precis de decomposition, was a regular torture, not the first copy, of course, but the attempt to write the book. In the end I reworked it four times and thereby almost lost all pleasure in writing.
Q: I am also thinking that you often speak of Buddhism in your most recent works, of far Eastern ways of thought and living, of Nirvana. Do you have a nostalgia for a philosophy of peace, for a philosophy, I might almost say, of healthful sleep?
Cioran: I have since put this phase of which you speak behind me, though it has indeed played a great role. My interest in these things reaches at least ten years back and I must admit that I was always somewhat inclined toward Buddhism, if one can be “somewhat” Buddhist. If I really had to decide upon one form of belief—let us say now and forever, under threat of death, etc.—then I would certainly opt for Buddhism. Buddhism is the religion, though, that best agrees with me; several aspects excepted, of course, it is in my opinion an acceptable and almost “comfortable” religion.
There are, naturally, things that one accepts and others that one cannot agree with; for example, to accept the concept of transmigration certain assumptions are necessary. Thus the basis of Buddhism, what it asserts about suffering or death, is completely acceptable. The negative side of it compelled the Buddha to renounce the world. All that is acceptable, but we cannot accept many rules of Buddhist doctrine, which simply don’t correspond to our style and our own tradition, for example metempsychosis, the conception of the diverse stages of preexistence, or existence, and so forth. Thus, though Buddhist doctrine, the dogma, remains unacceptable, the spirit of Buddhism, that is, the system of thought which the foundations of Buddhism set forth, can very well win us over. And finally, Buddhism is the religion that requires the least investment of faith, if I may put it so, quite different from Christianity and Judaism, which both demand specific things. In those religions, if one cannot bear to follow certain precepts, one is lost from the outset, and it makes no sense to go on. Not so in Buddhism which permits compromise. The conditions that compelled Buddha to withdraw from the world can be carried out by almost anyone and one can accept them without further ado, provided one also has the courage to take on the associated consequences. Completely different in Christian belief, wherein one must obey this and that command. Buddhism requires from a person not one bit of confession, and no gratitude either; one must simply bring with one a certain vision, a certain way of looking at things.
[...] I have not traveled much. I have undertaken very few trips and visited only a few countries. And now I hardly travel at all. My last trip took me to Greece, not exactly because I wanted to travel there, but more because I was compelled to go, since someone else simply paid for everything for me... Nevertheless I have gotten around a little bit, because a long time ago I had a great passion for bicycle riding—I even went to England just to ride around there. Indeed, I was at that time a lot younger. It was more than twenty years ago, and the bicycle still seems to me the ideal means of transportation: one is “out of doors,” one is in the country, and at the same time one is underway, always in motion. I loved it chiefly because I got to talk to strangers and on my bicycle tours through France I spoke with an infinite number of people, obviously not with intellectuals. I love talking to simple people, with common folk, if you like, and I still do it and still chat now as before with anyone, regardless of intellectual level. On the contrary, I like uneducated people much better and that is obviously my Romanian heritage.
[...] I have a weakness for cemeteries, though they aren’t so beautiful anymore, because they are simply overpopulated! When I meet friends or people I know who are going through a difficult period, I usually have this advice for them: “Go for twenty minutes in a cemetery and you'll see that, though your worry won’t disappear, you’ll almost forget about it and you’ll feel better.”
Just a few days ago I told a young woman who was suffering fearfully from an unhappy love, “Since you don’t live far from Montparnasse, take a walk through the cemetery, just half an hour, and you will see that your misery will appear bearable.” In such a situation, it is much better to do that than to go to a doctor; there is no medicine that can help. To visit a cemetery in such a situation is a lesson, a lesson in wisdom! I have always practiced such methods, or recommended them, although it may not seem altogether serious, but it has been effective in every case. What can one say that is meaningful to someone in despair? Absolutely nothing, or almost nothing. My advice shows immediate results. I am, by the way, quite compassionate, which might sound surprising to many people, but I am very sensitive where the pain of my fellow man is concerned, and have always been that way. I have helped many people, many more than you might think.
[...] I overcame insomnia after only seven “wide-awake” years, in 1937, when I came to France. And it came about when I rode across France on my bicycle, as I said already. I was underway for a month and I passed the nights mostly in youth hostels, and the physical exertion of putting at least 100 km a day behind me cured me. When one rides 100 km a day, one must sleep; one cannot do otherwise, and in this way I overcame the crisis. That is, not through reflection, complaining, or the like, but solely by means of physical exertion, which suited me, I must admit. I was also always “out of doors” and there, for the first time, I really comprehended France, because I met many simple people, workers, young people, and so forth, and it was for me in that regard a very, very fruitful experience.
[...] it’s very likely that I won’t write any more. All these books that come out constantly disgust me; the fact that each author publishes at least one book a year is unhealthy, false. I prefer not to write anymore, would like to be able to give it up, and now it pleases me less and less to write than it did earlier.
Extracts; full text
12 March 1957
Thursday Windy & rainy today. No news. I overslept & started the day badly in consequence. I seem to walk on a transparent surface and see beneath me all the bones and wrecks and tentacles that will eventually claim me: in other words, old age, incapacity, loneliness, death of others & myself... Wasn’t there a George Robey* song with a refrain In other words? I’ve opened Hopkins** to find fine simplicities to draw your attention to: but I admit they’re few and far between. Still, that makes them more effective.
1. Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales:
2. Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes
3. Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
4. All life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
5. To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life among strangers.
*Sir George Edward Wade (1869 – 1954), known professionally as George Robey, was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre, who became known as one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
**Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), an English poet and Jesuit priest
9 April 1957
[...] Tonight I heard a few yowling settings of Hardy by some guy called Finzi*, wch made me look at the poems again. I shan’t believe I am insensitive to poetry as long as Hardy can make me tingle all over like a man menaced by a revenant. But they sadden me as much as anything, sadden & frighten. I'm terrified of the thought of time passing (or whatever is meant by that phrase) whether I ‘do’ anything or not. In a way I may believe, deep down, that doing nothing acts as a brake on ‘time’ - it doesn’t of course. It merely adds the torment of having done nothing, when the time comes when it really doesn’t matter if you've done anything or not. Do you understand this? Perhaps you take more naturally to doing nothing than I do. [...]
*Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), English composer
24 May 1957
[...] The ‘achievement’ I speak of is to set a solid set of works against it all, and it irks me that I can do nothing, & have done so little. I wanted to write such a lot - novels particularly - about ‘the way things turn out & the beauty of the natural world’; but it doesn’t look as if I shall: and I wanted to do it not for my sake but for its sake - responsibility is always to the thing & not to yourself or the filthy reader. I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not. Otherwise it flies forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day*. When I think of everything I’ve seen & felt, & how little of it I’ve managed to pin - about 3 days of my whole life - then I grind my teeth. Consider people like Trollope & how much they did. Of course all this is an idealistic & probably unreal conception of writing, but some people seem to have carried it out, or acted as if it were a fair statement of the facts. [...]
*Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
- Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)
6 July 1957
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Saturday night, and a storm brewing — I’ve been round shutting the windows, and drawn my sitting room curtains so that I can't see the sheet lightning blinking over the near-at-hand trees. Nearly 10. I’ve been in since shopping, listening to the endless cricket commentary, reading another wretched book, eating supper, snoozing. I went out & bought 2 bottles of wine & some sherry, for no very good reason except that since cutting down my smoking to 1 per day I feel a stronger craving for drink. I wish there were some really nice drink. After gin & Italian and gin & orange I’m trying sherry, but it’s not specially agreeable.
[…] Oh dear! Storm much nearer, crashing about overhead. — Some time later: I think it’s all quietened down now: it was really frightening for a time, like someone flicking a vast electric light on outside the house, and grinding pieces of coal together before chucking them down a 6o-ft shaft on to the head of a tympanum. Anyway, now I’m settled down with a fresh glass of sherry & a stack of LPs on the player. Wouldn’t it be rather romantic to turn into an alcoholic? ‘About half way through 1957 he began to drink much more heavily...’
...When I said in a previous letter that monsterism arose from an inability to face life, I meant of course a sustained and unprejudiced contemplation of the passage of time, the inevitability of DEATH, the onset of incapacity and impotence. I think that as soon as - no, I mean that how one regards these facts settles one’s whole life: if they seem distant & almost irrelevant then you are O.K.: if they seem closer to you than the name stitched on yr underwear then you have had it, nothing else can possibly win yr concentration.
Philip Larkin – Letters to Monica
11 January 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
Dearest bun & only,
[…] I’m trying to write a poem on something we saw in Chichester. Can you guess what? [...] [It was in Chichester a little later that L. and Monica saw the ‘Arundel tomb’ - see Dec. 1955]
As regards Kingsley’s life, well, I’d certainly like to work 3 days a week six months a year, & THE REST NOTHING. He & Hilly struck me as a pair of DIRTY RICH CHILDREN - they have no worries, they REFUSE TO SUFFER; no jealousies - Hilly tells me how Kingsley was ‘t’rrifically necking old Miggy’ (i.e. Margaret, her sister) on New Year’s Eve, and so on & so forth - not enviable, but I envy him his lazy life & his absolute refusal to do or worry about anything ‘nasty’. No wonder he can write. A pity he didn’t marry a virago, but then he never wd, he’s far too clearsighted, though he couldn’t have foreseen the money. Well, this is stupid jealous talk. [...]
26 January 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, East Yorks
[…] What I’d really like is the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry!
[…] How time goes. I laid down my pen at 9 & picked up my pencil*: now it’s 11. I’ve added 6 1/2 lines**, but only 4 are ‘firm’. It’s nice & quiet up here - almost all it is nice & .[...]
*L. almost always used pencil for writing in his poetry work-books.
** Of ‘An Arundel Tomb’.
26 February 1956
200 Hallgate, Cottingham, East Yorks
One might say ‘Penicillin is stronger than death, sometimes’ with fair truth, but ‘love is stronger than death’ reminds me of that slogan ‘Britain (or London) can take it’, wch irritated me in the same way. It surely meant that people can stand being bombed as long as they aren’t bombed. If A says ‘we can take it’, & В is hit by a bomb, then clearly В can’t take it, so A’s statement only means ‘A can take В being bombed’: similarly ‘love is stronger than death’ means ‘A’s love is stronger than B’s death’, which is self-evident. A’s love is not stronger than A’s death. At least we’ve no reason for thinking it is. Does all this sound very Bertrand Russellish? Perhaps it is not as logical as I think. Of course love is not just a word: I don’t mean to be ‘cynical’ about it. Nor do I want to enlist myself under it because, again, it isn’t just a word, I can see clearly that my life isn’t governed by it. Some bright lad (E.M.F.?) said the opposite of love wasn’t hate but individuality (personality, egotism) and I’ve been feeling increasingly that it is this that keeps me from love - I mean love isn’t just something extra, it’s a definite acceptance of the fact that you aren’t the most important person in the world. Here again I feel a fallacy lurking: if A isn’t the most important person in the world, then why shd В be? The better conclusion wd be that if A wasn’t, then nobody is. Of course I'm not speaking of love as an emotion but as a motive, that leads to action, which seems to me the only real proof of a quality or feeling. Do I sound like some horrible young don, half-Jewish, at Birkbeck College? Don't let me. There isn’t anything very new about my remarks: obviously people who think themselves the most important person in the world are ‘immature’ - part invalid, part baby & part saint, as I wrote.
8 May 1956
192A Hallgate*, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] We ought to have talked about holidays more - how little time we have together! I was reading about the Carlyles tonight in V.S.P. [V.S.Pritchett in the New Statesman]: “Their worst agonies seem not to have come from their common hypochondria, her jealousy or his monstrous selfishness, but from not getting letters from each other on the day they were expected when they were separated.” Do you think people will write like that about us when we are dust? My dear rabbit! [...]
*L. had recently moved into this, the top flat of his colleague Ronald Drinkwater’s house.
10 September 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] I often feel poems have to have some falsity in them, like yeast, or they won’t ‘rise’.
27 September 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham, E. Yorks
[…] The flat is a trial [L. was in process of moving to 32 Pearson Park]. Nothing seems likely to come […] I really don’t know when I shall get in. […] I went down at lunch, & felt displeased with it all. The front door rattles. The children below were audible. The stairs are supremely squalid. Hum. Ha.
[…] Ah, don’t talk about our lives and the dreadful passing of time. Nothing will be good enough to look back on, I know that for certain: there will be nothing but remorse & regret for opportunities missed not only for getting on the gravy train but for treating people decently.
27 October 1956
192A Hallgate, Cottingham
[...] No, you misjudge me about public speaking - it’s the desire of the cripple to ice-skate, the asthmatic to sing in opera - I long to wait for the laughter to die down, & then recommence. ‘But the motion before us, Mr President, Sir...’, my crisp firm voice reaching effortlessly to the back of the hall, my buttonhole, my evening dress, surrounded by eager pompous young faces. Ah! La rêve! [...]
4 December 1956
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[...] Flurry of insults in the December “Encounter”! [A dismissive review of New Lines in the October issue by David Wright was followed in the December issue by letters, including one by Robert Conquest.] I’m afraid Conquest isn’t much of a champion in any case. And an ‘ignoramus’ in the “Listener!” [At this period most book reviews in the Listener were anonymous] Well, well. The Irish 6d [In ‘Church Going’] was meant as a comic compromise between GIVING NOTHING and giving REAL MONEY - like the Musical Banks. Well, I wd sooner be insulted by Tom Scott [Combative Scottish poet who wrote much in Scots] than praised by Pamela Hansford Johnson - poetry a public activity, oh go and boil your stupid opinionated Scotch head, you haggis-fed clown. [...]
Talk about making the sun run: we certainly filled Sunday afternoon well & pleasantly. I liked the pudding & the sauce, very much, too. Does that sound funny? I expect it does. And that quite remarkable gold turf of cloud filling half the sky when we left. I expect you think I behave one way one time and another another. This isn’t the place to go into it all, and I’m not sure I could anyway - not without talking for several days, for fear of seeming to lay more emphasis on one thing rather than another - but I am always worrying about what I want for you, for mother, for myself - or think I want. Of course worrying is all cant. Action is the thing. But don’t think I think ‘everything is all right’. [...]
I may let the university magazine [L. means the Leeds University Poetry and Audience, to which he had earlier contributed two poems and a book review. ‘An Arundel Tomb’ had already appeared in the May 1956 London Magazine] have “Tomb” this Christmas, in wch case I’ll let you have a copy. I don’t, myself, like it very much: it belongs to that period after publication when one tries to write ideas of poems instead of real poems. In fact I think it’s embarrassingly bad! and I fancy you will too when you see it again. Real poems have more bite to them. “Mr Bleaney” is more real. “Lambs” is not bad: better than “Tomb”. [...]