Sunday, September 16, 2018

Summer is so curiously absent-minded

Sometimes I think: I must exploit the chance that I am still (after all!) body.
I am forced to reconsider, again, my thoughts and feelings about love, poetry, and correspondence, or at least how I write about those things. Twice I've set down notes about this book, and for whatever cosmic quirk, my work failed to save. Obviously I wasn't getting it quite right.

Maybe I should begin this way: What makes a poet a poet? More than just words? Do poets live differently than the rest of us? Am I a poet? How do poets feel love?

By far the most interesting character of Letters: Summer 1926, is Marina Tsvetayeva, the greatest Russian poet you've never heard of. I'd never heard of her. Yet, she was central that summer in the lives and work of Rainer Maria Rilke and Boris Pasternak. This book collects the correspondence between the three of them and captures the inner workings of the creative process as well as the drama of a very strange love triangle.

Marina loves Boris, and then Rainer, she loves them both, then she is angry, but then she loves Rainer again more than ever, she loves them both, but a different ways, that is, she loves them soul, and body and soul. Boris hates his wife and loves Marina, until she gets in the way of his work; he admires Rilke and resents him and Marina for loving each other, and he loves his wife again; it wouldn't do for any poet to be considered on the same plane as himself. Rainer is meek, but wise — he has a way with words; he is somehow above matters of the body, matters of this world. He says he loves Marina, but I don't think he knows what love is — he is too much soul.

Tsvetayeva is interesting to me in part because I've never heard of her. That she is little known has little to do with the quality of her poetry, and everything to do with Soviet politics (Her husband was a spy, allegedly unbeknownst to her; and having lived in exile, she was regarded suspiciously upon her return to Moscow.) and, I think, her sex (perhaps like Teffi, simply not taken seriously).
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.
What samples of her poetry I can find online I don't actually like (that is, they don't speak to me). Her letters, on the other hand, are impassioned and sincere. They are (overly) dramatic, sometimes cryptic, sometimes downright weird.
Boris, this is not a real letter. The real ones are never committed to paper.
I hear myself in her writing. She explains, "I talked to you all the time." I see myself talking to him even though he's not there. Is that love? Talking, writing to an absence? Imagining their presence. Living with their presence in their absence. Isn't creativity is a means of wish fulfillment? You write something into existence. Tsvetayeva wrote, "I do not like life itself: for me it begins to be significant, that is, to acquire meaning and weight, when it is transformed, i.e., in art."

She made her love for Pasternak become an enduring thing, though it had no hope of being so, by writing it that way. I've done the same. And I think she wrote her love for Rilke into existence.

Love has always been mediated by the technology of communication. Today it is dating profiles and real-time text. Tsvetayeva relied on reputation, literary reviews, and gossip to filter for the object of her love and engaged in long-form correspondence with lengthy lag time and crossed wires.

There is so much innuendo in these letters, but I don't know if that's something I create by reading it with my twenty-first century (dirty) mind, or if it was intended. Surely the recipients of the letters would have a clearer idea than I do. Or would they? When they declare their love, is it for the person or for their work? Is everything a metaphor? Is everything poetry? Do these poets even have bodies anymore?

Tsvetayeva to Rilke, June 3:
Before life one is always and everything; as one lives, one is something and now (is, has — 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 further, the worse. Without a letter — without you; with a letter — without you; with you — without you. Into you! Not to be. — Die!

This I how I am. This is how love is — infinite time. Thankless and self-destructive. I do not love or honor love.
Tsvetayeva was always declaring herself. I admire her for it. It takes a great deal of courage to say what you feel.

In April, Pasternak is telling Tsvetayeva he had a dream about her, a dream of "joy and endlessness," and "it was more first than first love." By June he is afraid of falling in love.

Pasternak to Tsvetayeva, July 1:
This groan is the loudest note in the universe. I am inclined to believe that outer space is filled with this sound rather than with the music of the spheres. I hear it. I cannot reproduce it, nor can I imagine myself caught up in its rushing, multitudinous unity, but I do make my contribution to the elemental groan: I complain with every muscle of my heart, I give myself up so completely to complaint that if I were to drown I would go to the bottom, carrying a three-pood weight of complaint in my upstretched hands; I complain that I could love neither my wife nor you, neither myself nor my life, if you were the only women in the world, if your sisters were not legion; I complain that I do not understand and sympathize with Adam in Genesis, that I do not know how his heart was constructed, how he felt and why he loved. Because the only reason I love, when I do love, is that, because I feel the cold of the right half of the universe on my right shoulder, and the cold of the left half on my left, my love circles around and around me in decent nakedness, like moths around city lamps in summer, cutting off sight of what lies before me and where I must go.
Pasternak has an ego, a very male ego. He's a bit of a jerk really. "The will of the poet transcends the demands of life." Come on, Boris. Who do you love? Make a fucking decision. He's a coward standing behind his talent, his luck to have a reputation.

Rilke's ego is that of an artist. It's hard to think of him as a man at all.

Rilke to Tsvetayeva, July 28:
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....
By August, Tsvetayeva clearly declares that she loves Rilke. But she seems to resent the fact his feelings are not reciprocated with equal force. (Nor is she aware how close he is to death.) She wants desperately to sleep with him, but really to sleep. She loves the poetry, his soul; she does not even know Rilke the man as a body.
Love hates poets. [...] where soul begins, the body ends. [...] 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 soul?

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