E. du Perron
Oxford, 24 oktober 1929
xxiv. x. xxix 18h1/2
My dear Edward, -
Your ‘Prière de Male Mort’ strikes me as being of the great things of poetry. Even the naked & ghastly details of the various deaths (which to the average English mind would seem out of place in poetry) seem right here - & especially when the whole has been read & the atmosphere & philosophy has imposed itself upon the reader. - Thank you for translating it. One day I'll learn Dutch - & read it in the original. - I think it fits in with the ‘historiettes’. - I see the man in entirety now. - It leaves me horrified & enraged that death is not for everybody as it is for me - an ‘objet de luxe’. - Probably I am among the category of those for whom ‘la Mort semble presque un but’ (although whether ‘je me tue à travailler’ is not very sure. If I take this in the general sense - i.e. signifying eternal striving after something quite beyond my reach - then it is true. I think I told you that I can count the times I have been happy on my fingers.) - I shall read it over many times again - having given you for the moment merely my general impression. -
I find Oxford not - very satisfying. Exteriorally all goes well - & I have the air of enjoying life immensely. But even its old buildings leave me absolutely & totally unmoved. They seem as un-‘vrai’ as everything else. Everybody - even those whose years are many more than mine - seem horribly young - in the sense that the depths of life seem to have passed them by. I think the reason is this. Most people come to Oxford because they want to say they have been there - because everybody who is ‘somebody’ passes at some time of his life to Oxford - because it is supposed to be the home of culture - & because the stamp it leaves on one is considered impeccable. Now, since it is the most expensive University that exists - & since many students come merely to have its cachet stamped upon them & not to study - the whole is rather artificial. -
Do you know what I should like to do soon? Go away to some place where I could be as savage as Peter when he was a pup - dig up gardens, run wild to my heart's content, throw stones into the sea - - & forget what dignity is. -
You see where the ink changes ... At that point Suzette came in & cried again. She lost a brother four months ago: he killed himself mountain-climbing. He was only twenty-six. - A while ago I should have hit God in the face for not being a gentleman, for not playing ‘franc jeu’ as far as the others are concerned - but now he so definitely does not exist that I can merely press my teeth firmly together - & when the terrific hurt goes swear softly to myself like a true Britisher. - Suzette nearly finished me by saying in a rather childish sob-laden voice, ‘That's his clock there’ (I had borrowed it.) I suddenly saw the horror of the human part of the tragedy. - She had seen him a few months before - & then it was through a newspaper that she learned of his death. She left Paris for home - & saw the coffin in the room where he used to play his music. She believed them when they said he looked just the same - but since they would not let her see him & since he had fallen 6,000 feet, he must have been in a terrible mess. - Then the maid came in to turn back my bed - & Suzette went away to hide her red eyes - & little Beryl, the maid, told me about her father who is a shepherd (thanks be to heaven that there are still shepherds in our industrialized England! This is the first time I had ever heard of a real one at first hand!) - & of her dog (all this because she asked me if I missed mine - & whether I was not sometimes afraid of him.) - Then Suzette came back, & she was laughing a moment ago .. - ..
Shall I go on being ‘vraie’? There is just something - I know not quite what - which makes me - a little afraid - of you. The feeling that - no, I'll tell you when I've met you. -
As for ‘Chateaubriand’ - of the latest snap - my dear Edward, I shall be irrevocably in love with you soon (said she, flippantly). Personally I think you're a really handsome person. (Tactful compliment!!) Do you know I've composed quite a number of delightful fairy-tales about you - & I come in too. This is the general trend of them. You come - & I fall desperately in love with you - & then one day, when I am feeling very tired & bothered with life in general, you come & know that I love you - & love me too - & take me in your arms - & there is a magnificent tranquillity of everything!! - I am smiling at myself - while remembering my sobs of the other morning. - Funny the way I came upon your poem. George sent me the Variétés last April & I hardly looked at it - but discovered it one Sunday afternoon - last August? or September was it? Such happy hazards often happen. - And here I am liking you a very great deal, happy as three lords (which doesn't happen often to me) - & - well - let's laugh. - Let's hope there'll be a happy ending to all this. There will be - for me at least - in any case. - Really I can't understand things at all. For once in my life I find myself profoundly esteeming & admiring & loving a man to the quantième puissance - & a man I have never met - & who tells me he is ‘petit’ & ‘gros’ & has dirty habits! O, my dear. It makes me laugh like hell. It ought to be ridiculous - but there is too much esteem for that - & besides stranger things than that happen, - I q -
Suzette came back at that point - & Suzette is happy - & Suzette thinks I'm a topping woman - for which the Universal Harmony be praised. - The most glorious thing in life is to see people - two or three or ten or twenty or a hundred of them - working in harmony. It makes me throb with a magnificent joy - just as the sight of a great & noble ship or a bridge fills me with a grand hope & trust in my harmony for ici-bas. -
Do you know, you make me feel like a child sometimes - & yet at other times I feel ‘as strong as a lion’ & want to fight ten thousand dragons to the death for you. When you talk about death, I want to enfold you in my arms, clasp you close to my warm breast so that you won't be afraid any more - for I could will it away, that fear, - & make you strong too. I would make you understand the harmony - & you would never be afraid or weak any more. -
Dieux, Edward, est-ce que j'écris en amie? J'espère ... But dammit. I'm happy - & you understand - & heaven knows what will happen tomorrow (here is the Epicurean side of me) - & I know this is all ‘vrai’ - & vrai-ness can do no real harm. - It must be interesting for you to know like this a British woman. Suzette says (let me consider her as being ‘universal opinion’ for the moment) that I am the most uncommon woman she knows. (By the way, you understand why I talk like this, don't you? Don't think I'm a ‘swanker’: I'm not. This is merely for you to know me better.) Everybody thinks that sincerity is my greatest quality - for which the U.H. be praised. -
Yes, I'll promise to come & see you somewhere else some day - but I know not as for Christmas. Oxford is hellishly expensive - & I have the London & equally expensive séjour to think about. However, I don't know yet - & anyway, some day ...
I wish I knew you better - & that I could say everything. For instance, being now rather tired & lonely. I should like to say that I'd love to go to sleep in your arms - which is the maddest thing I've said yet - & the most sincere. And why? Not by any means because I feel amorous (nasty word) or anything of the sort - but because I feel vraie & good - & because I somehow think it would be perfectly right. -
But, my good Edward, you won't refer to all this when you come to England, will you, there's a dear? Just imagine what I should feel like if you did! No, I am happy in regarding you in my own fashion - in protecting myself with your arms when I am tired - &, God help us, we are not so often happy. You understand? - All I ask of you is to go on being ‘vrai’ - & I, in my turn, shall understand. -
Goodnight - & thank you again for the ‘Prière de Male Mort’. -
It is going to be really humorous when you come to England. The first thing we shall do will be to laugh.
What dear delightful, foolish, sweet ... etc? Have I got them in the right order? -
You know, I am giving you credit for a very great deal of common sense - & I don't think I am mistaken. -
Origineel: Den Haag, Letterkundig Museum