Beyond the Island, Beyond the Garden
My dear friend Nadyenka,
Do you know that a new person has been born in me? A happy
one! Be glad
for me, my dear! Osya has moved to Petersburg. Escaping
the front, he left
Moscow to serve in a mechanized unit here, in the same
city as me! I hadn't
even dreamed of such a miracle! Not only that, you won't
believe it, but he
now lives across the street. He had informed me that
he was looking for an
apartment; I saw a notice in the house opposite, gave
him the address, and he
liked it! Unbelievable! The Lord heard my prayers, yes,
the Lord forgive me,
he really did hear them, and answered them! Don't judge
me, you know that I
lose my wits, my head, my voice—everything that so delights
you in me—
when I think of the future with my Osya.
As for the present, which, alas, does not exist, from
the moment of his marriage
to Lily in 1912 I have tried not to think about it. I
had enough time to be aware
of losing him: after all, they knew each other six years
before they were
married, and all that time I was almost right at their
side. He discussed with me
his attitude towards Madame Lily's dubious past...From
1912 on I've patiently
waited for my future with Osya, and with him only, to
come. And when I
learned that they had gotten married, oh, it was so painful
for me then! I
couldn't be in the same city with them. On the other
hand, what a tragedy for
me it was, moving from Moscow here to the capital, to
my father's. Not to see
Osya! It was torture...
Now things are different. I don't believe my luck! When
Osya informed me that
he lived opposite, I fainted...We put papa's bed by the
window, so that, while
reading together, talking, which we do for hours, you
know, I could see my
Osya if only out of the corner of my eye. I always know
when he has left the
house or, on the contrary, returned (alone or with Lily).
incomprehensible way I listen to their conversations
and take part in them.
This fills my life. But alas, I still see him rarely.
The fact is, they have forgotten
about him in the service, and he tries to go out of the
house as rarely as
possible. It's wartime, there are round-ups...
Papa is happy for me. He knows (with him, as with you,
I am extremely frank)
how cruelly I have suffered.
Oh no, Nadenka, I don't suffer now, no. That is why now,
almost for the first
time, I speak so openly with you about my feelings towards
Osya. You can
only imagine how deep they are. I lived through his betrayal,
which it was
even hard to accuse him of. Did Osenka understand what
he meant to me?
After all, we were friends from earliest childhood, I'm
a couple of years older
than him. I was always his friend. Showing my feelings
is something I just
never learned. In my sobriety, suffering just rolls off
me, and I wait! I wait for
him to turn his back on Lily! I don't desire it, I simply
know that that is how it
will be. When it occurs, I will be waiting for him as
my husband. Hoping for it,
just like hoping that papa will finally get on his feet,
this is what gives me life
force! Thank the Lord!
Nadyusha, my dear friend, I thank you for the letter,
for being concerned
about me, and for asking Lily's nice sister to drop by
and see me. I am very
happy to get to know Elsa. She came to see me when she
was in town with
I heard a great deal about him long ago, not just from
you, but from my
acquaintance and namesake Sonka Shamardina, whom I met
in the Stray Dog.
It was because of your stories about Mayakovsky that
I went there and
listened to his performance; the impression was good,
no more, but Sonka
became my friend. I know that she was very close to Mayakovsky,
called her his sister. I've long wanted to ask you where
you got to know
Mayakovsky yourself? The fact is, Sonka once told me
that she and Volodya
came to the Dog and there was no light there, and water
on the floor. They lit
a fire and roasted eggplants. And afterwards some person
arrived with this
girl Nadya, a student at the theater school. For some
reason I was convinced
that this was you. After all, you had come here, to Petersburg,
Wasn't that when you were here? The poet would not allow
Sonka to walk on
the flooded floor: he carried her in his arms, walking
Finally, I looked closely and saw the person to whom my
Nadyusha was so
unable to be indifferent. Yes, he did look like a poet.
So big and beautiful. His
voice shook me. He recited verses to us, standing in
papa's small bedroom.
How he did recite! And what verse! God!...My papa fell
in love with him too.
I recognized now that Mayakovsky's verse had overturned
our notion of
poetry. Finally, a real poetic voice, without the sweet
howling, without the
Elik, as Mayakovsky called Elsa, was a marvelous, tender,
smart girl, in love
with Volodya. The direct opposite of her sister Lily.
But I tell you, Elsa and
Mayakovsky are not well-matched...Judging from what you
and Sonka related,
he, like many big men, and a poet to boot!—is defenseless,
he's weak. He
doesn't know how to act with a woman. Tenderness alone
isn't enough. He
needs a strong woman to guide him. Papa and I, without
beforehand, both came to the same conclusion. And a better
psychology than my remarkable father, you know, it would
be hard to find...
My dear Nadyusha, why do you thank me so much? Yes, papa
and I have
fallen in love with Elsa, and we have both been devoted
to her from the
moment we met her. Since Mayakovsky fell irrevocably
in love with her sister
Lily Kagan (I cannot and do not want to write Osya’s
last name after hers,
though she does bear Osya’s last name Brik!) my correspondence
has been very natural. The inner need for one another—isn’t
this why people
meet on earth, to find their other half? Not everyone
succeeds in doing so...
Now Sonka Shamardina writes me that she and Volodya have
split up, that
she has broken off intimate contact with him...she already
knows about Lily,
and writes that on seeing Volodya with false teeth (his
toothlessness, in her
opinion, underlines his significance), she understood
that Lily was working
hard on the Poet’s appearance. How important it is—but
ah, how hard—to
find one’s other half! Not only in love (like mine for
Osya), but also in
friendship (like mine with you, with Sonka, and now with
poor Elichka Kagan
I confessed to Elichka that I myself had gone through
a drama with Osya Brik
similar to hers with Volodya Mayakovsky, thinking that
I would thereby
alleviate her suffering. In my letters to her, over and
over, like grain between
millstones, I mull over my old thoughts about Osya, but
now I do it by
analyzing the situation between Elsa Kagan and Volodya
Mayakovsky. As if
I wanted everything back in place—Osya with me, you or
Elik (as fate decides)
with Mayakovsky, and Lily...Lily will never be alone.
Nadinka, my friend, how good it is that you are in this
world! You and papa
are all that’s left to me. The two of you, Osya, and
the impossibility of an
existence without books—that is what gives me the strength
to live. It's by
God's grace that I have met Elsa Kagan and Volodya Mayakovsky,
imagine, drops by from time to time: he visits Lily here
often, on Zhukovsky
street, after all. I sometimes watch from the window
as she, small, elegant, in a
big black hat with a feather in it, and he, in a top
hat, approach her house.
Volodya lives somewhere else, on Nadezhdinskaya, it seems,
but this, my dear
Muscovite, means nothing to you.
I confess to you, my friend, that I couldn’t resist and...made
my myself a
Christmas present. I didn’t write you that I had seen
Osya three times since he
moved to Petersburg (my tongue will never bring itself
to say Petrograd). Our
meetings were formal, brief, almost businesslike, and
in the presence of Lily.
And now for the fourth time since they moved here I have
seen Osya, and
talked with him for a long time! They had repeatedly
sent invitations to visit
them. The last meeting I put off for a long time, nearly
six months, and finally
made up my mind to do it. I spent an intoxicating evening
with Osya. Thank
God, Lily left us alone together. We recalled our childhood,
our parents, the
books we read together, New Year’s holidays. As before
their marriage, we
didn’t talk about Lily. This time we talked about Volodya
his poetry. Osya adores Mayakovsky, and speaks of him
with such love that I
even felt a momentary twinge of jealousy. Yes, be happy
for me: Osenka
confessed to me that he can't change apartments, because
if he registers at a
new address, the army officials will find him and send
him to the front. As long
as the war goes on, he will be near me!
Osenka, clever boy, is the first to publish Volodya Mayakovsky’s
verse! He is
writing for the new journal Vzyal a review of Volodya’s
long poem “Cloud.”
How proud I am of my Osya! Do you know, Nadenka, that
when he was still in
gymnasium he led a study group on political economy?
He was in the eighth
class then, and they even expelled him from school for
a time for revolutionary
propaganda! So inspired was he by the 1905 revolution.
By the way, did you
know that he and Lily met, right before my eyes, in that
study group? She was
only 14 then; Osya was 17.
They invited me to celebrate the New Year with them,
but I couldn’t leave
papa alone...Elik spent it with them, can you imagine
how it was for her? She
dropped in on me, by herself now, without Volodya, and
said that they had
brought in the New Year gaily, the tree was hung under
the ceiling “head over
heels,” decorated with playing cards, a yellow jacket
jacket) and a paper cutout of a cloud in trousers. Osenka
was in a turban and
an Uzbek dressing gown, and Mayakovsky had some red material
on his neck.
Elsa, given her bent, was of course Pierrot. She told
how the poet Vasily
Kamensky had pledged his hand and heart to her, how Vita
Shklovsky was in
love with her, but she, like me, is true to her feelings...
My dear Elik, I know how hard things are for you, I know
that your poor soul
is torn apart with pain. Alas, no one, not even my wise
papa and I, can help,
no one but Volodya himself...Oh, if only a miracle suddenly
happened, and he
forgot Lily’s name...Thank you for sharing things with
me, I value your
friendship highly. Your sincerity...
I am afraid for you. Your nerves are so shot! I am happy
that Nadyusha has
spent a lot of time with you since she found out that
you had decided to
poison yourself last summer. What luck that you are still
alive! Elik, my dear,
my dear friend, how bad I feel for you! And how unpleasant
that your sister is
spiritually so indelicate!
However, this is the very thing that shouldn't be surprising.
All through her
childhood she was bossy, ordered you around, took all
the best things for
herself. I can’t forget those lines from your letter
to me about this, and the fact
that Lily and the Khvas sisters locked you in the bathroom?
And you, my girl,
feared nothing in the world more than a door locked from
the outside. And Lily
knew this! By the way, this cruel game has been repeated
again in a real life
situation. Only the Khvases, at whose house you and Volodya
met, have stepped aside now. And your own sister Lily
has once more locked
you with your spiritual torments behind a door, by taking
But could THIS really have been unexpected for you? Is
it news that she
doesn’t take your feelings into account? And whose feelings
did she ever
take into account, if her interests were at stake? Only
her own. And don’t
expect Lily to change. I know her quite well. She may
adore Osya, you, your
mama, but there will never be anyone in the world more
important to her than
Why is Volodya with her instead of you? That is the main
thing that must be
understood, so that, at a minimum, you don’t go crazy,
and don’t ever think
again about leaving this life. My wise father and I (in
accordance with your
written request that I discuss everything with him!)
have thought about this
for a long time. My friend, forgive me, but in answer
to your complaints, which
literally rend my heart, I can’t not write frankly everything
that came into our
Listen, Elik, whatever you share will always be better
for it. That’s the first
thing. The second thing is that your beloved Vladimir
Mayakovksy is still
not a match for you. You are both too kind, too defenseless.
If you were only
different! Well, I can see that you are smiling through
tears. About time!
You flatter me, saying that I understand people. Some
such gift in me there
might possibly be, but it’s more a matter of suffering
like yours being, for me,
already in the past. I am already over it. Besides, I’m
quite a bit older than you.
It was for this very reason that I took you under my
wing, in spite of our
friendship. Yes, yes, in spite of, because in a situation
in which I am forced to
intervene, there is a risk that you will understand me
wrong and get angry. If
you begin to get angry, remember that I am answering
you according to your
firm request and that I have learned of your spiritual
troubles from you
yourself and from letters in which you describe to me
in detail the sad history
of your love for Volodya.
Nevertheless I am still resolved. Seeing what has happened
through my eyes,
I hope you will come to your senses a bit. So...you will
agree that being in love
is a sickness, it’s not a normal, but a pathological
state. Being in love... Let’s
recall how many years you and Volodya were friends before
he met Lily in ’15.
About two years, wasn’t it? He looked for you at the
dacha, you didn't look for
him. It was you, not he, who often didn’t come when you
were to meet, and he
had waited for hours. You (and not the other way around)
told him not to call
any more when your father was ill. It was Mayakovsky
who spent every day at
your house in Moscow in ’14. He came to your house and
left his enormous
business cards. Mama would ask him to take “that sign”
back, handing him the
card. It was he who was in love with you. He was in love
with you, you were
wonderful friends. Isn’t that so?
But you? You yourself more than once confessed to Nadyusha,
and wrote me
about it, that you never paid any special attention to
him until you heard his
poem “Listen.” Only then, drunk with poetry, did you
who was beside you. A poet! That was who you fell in
love with! Volodya
Mayakovsky the person—what was he to you? Yes, yes, yes...You
did not distinguish these two phenomena: the person and
When he came to visit you in Petersburg (you were then
visiting at Lily’s,
having come to see her after your father’s death, weren’t
you?), you, fatally,
asked him to read verses—Lily, enchanted, took Volodya
away from you. But
when Lily takes, she takes everything (you and I know
this well!). Then you
lost Volodya the person as well.
And you know, you still didn’t understand if you were
yet in love with him as
a person or only starting to be. I suppose you were starting
to be. He was
serving in Petersburg in a mechanized unit, wasn’t he?
During the war you
lived in Moscow. You didn’t see yourself clearly then.
You had not yet gotten
used to the double Volodya. The poet in the guise of
a person. Answer this
question yourself: could you lose something that you
had not yet found?
Was he not always the Poet with you?
And now, my dear, you write him fine, delicate (undoubtedly!)
attempting to bring him back to you. Listen, my friend:
it is too late. He is like
a train that has already left. And not because you are
bad or unnecessary. No.
You are wonderful, Elik, and you were his Muse. He writes
tender letters, and
comforts you. He, Volodya Mayakovsky the person, probably
guilt to you for trading his youthful relationship with
you for his passion for
But now, especially at his age, he needs a woman. (Remember
Volodya is a big person in every sense of the word,
because he is a poet. His
passions are big too. That is why he needs not the tender
love of an
adolescent girl, inexperienced and timid, but a strong—cruel
if you like—
intelligent passion, the very kind that Lily is capable
Osya showed me a photo. One of those where you are in
your striped dress,
utterly the soft-haired girl; Roma Jakobson is also standing
there next to Lily.
Do you remember this photo? It sticks in my mind. Because
my attention was
drawn to her face! The face of a woman, not a girl. And
Lily was then only 14
or 15, wasn’t she? She’s 5 years older than you?
Don’t be angry: in all sincerity, I love Lily, it’s impossible
not to love her. But
I confess that I have always been, and still am, very
wary in my dealings with
her. I could never be open with her, never confide in
Something (her wary look, her imperiousness?) frightens
me in her, and only
the awareness that she is the wife of a person I love,
that she is your sister,
keeps me from thinking not very desirable thoughts.
However, if Lily thought the same as I did when she took
from you, then she can be blamed for one thing only.
She did not spare your
feelings in winning Volodya. The woman in her overcame
Well, nature is often stronger in us than our minds. And
in Lily nature and
reason are almost equally strong. I judge, of course,
not from life experience,
which has taught me a lot, though not all. Luckily or
not, papa always spoke
to me so much about people and their behavior that I
learned to think about
such things and understand them somewhat. Besides that
literature is a treasury of human experience.
You understand, my dear friend Elik, Lily is a rare fortunate
(for her!) example
of the woman conqueror. Her seeming defeat in her marriage
with Osya Brik,
even that turned into a victory for her. Osya turned
away from her, gave her
up to Mayakovsky, but they live together as before. And
there are times when
I (oh, how painful to me to acknowledge it), alas! I
understand that I can
predict: this is for a long time, if not forever. Such
women cannot be refused.
Willful, bold, passionate, stylish, intelligent, knowing
what she wants: a
seductive man in skirts with fiery, unkind eyes.
The reason for this is not only Lily’s specialness, her
womanly strength, but
also the weakness of Osya as a man. A man, as you well
know, dear Elik, is a
weak and fairly lazy creature; what he looks for in any
woman is a mother.
A mother is care, food on the table, warmth, knowing how
to make a dwelling
comfortable, helping. If a mother is good enough and
gives her son much else,
boys will often reject this. They feel overfed with care
and affection. And only
as adults do they realize. Too late! Becoming men, they
look for what went
away in childhood or what they dreamed of that mother
could not give. Many
look for both in one woman. There is where Lily comes
in: her cold calculation
and her ability to organize daily life stand her in good
stead. You know how
Mayakovsky has changed externally? Lily made him get
false teeth, dress
elegantly, get his hair cut. She has Osya’s mother in
her; no wonder Lily loves
her so much. But she also has what Osya missed in his
She even has what Volodya’s mother obviously didn’t,
after losing her
husband and having to watch over every penny.
I told you that you were Volodya’s Muse. But that Lily
would become so, was
P.S. You haven’t noticed, my dear Elik, that Mayakovsky’s
influenced our epistolary style as well. From our
letters and speech I see the
disappearance of words like ah, magical, indescribable,
charming. Instead of
reject, deign, appropriate, we have begun to say forget,
take, decide, and so
on. Lily comes out of this too. Maybe it’s the war that’s
changed us so?
Dear Nadyusha, here a new year has begun. Everything with
us is as it was: I
continue to talk a lot about life and friends with papa.
He sends his greetings.
I read a lot, sitting at the window, waiting for my Osya.
My life is full enough.
You remember I wrote you about Osya’s review of “Cloud”
in the journal
Vzyal? Filosofov called Osenka the one experienced journalist
in the entire
journal. And this is only his first review! I’m sure
that I’m happier about it
You know of course that Elichka came here. Things had
been looking up
somewhat in her relationship with Volodya: in his letters
he had been pressing
her to come to Petersburg. But I am afraid that these
invitations came not so
much from his desire to see Elik as from the complications
of relationships in
a situation where there are three. But she is warmed
also by simple desire:
Elichka has a good little heart. Poor girl! She came
at Christmas. She was at
our house. She saw Mayakovsky. And left...with nothing,
downhearted, all in tears. And even though Mayakovksy
promised to come
see Elichka in Moscow, he’ll hardly keep his word. Lily
My dear Nadyushik, how happy I am that you wrote! Finally
you have a fixed
address, and we can once more correspond calmly, but
it would be even better
if you came to see me. How many years it’s been since
we saw each other!
How I long to embrace you, thank you for your friendship,
talk things out
with you! My world of living contacts is quite restricted,
you know. But be
happy for me: Osenka has started coming to see us. You
can understand how
my heart fluttered at the sound of his voice. He relates
in detail how his life
with Lily has changed since meeting Mayakovsky. How they
involved with literature. You see, Mayakovsky brings
poets to their house:
Pasternak, Khlebnikov, Burlyuk, Kamensky. Shklovsky comes
says that Mayakovsky is an ardent card-player.
Osenka looks not so well. He talks about interesting events
and people. At the
same time he is dull, downcast, taciturn; his eyes are
hard to see behind his
glasses. He started wearing a pince-nez in his last year
of gymnasium. I look
at my aging love and see only the young Osya, with his
head of hair, his little mustaches on his pouty upper
lip, his infinitely deep
dark eyes. He is my Osya, axial, my axis.* The pivot
of my spiritual life. Oh, if
only he heard my agonizing conversations with myself!
Since he left I can do
nothing. I rejoice and suffer at once. But I wait as
before, staying true to my
one and only Osya. If I only knew what was in his heart...
*There is a play of words here on the name Osya, osevoi
(axial) and os’(axis). Sometimes Mayakovksy comes by for a few minutes
and unfailingly reads us verses, to my and papa's delight. He brought Lev
Grinkrug to see us, who, as I recall, used to be in love
with Lily. Lev is wonderfully kind and good.
He is a Muscovite. Sonka Shamardina writes me once in
while. She had a son; she sings cradle songs
to him and reads Mayakovsky's verse. She misses Volodya,
or not even him so much: it seems that she
herself left him, as much as anything for the constant
anxiety (as she writes) of dealing with him, but
what can you do?
Has Elichka decided not to come here any more? She wrote
me a letter full of
rapture for the February revolution. Naturally I can't
really share it: especially
in view of that idiotic October coup. She also wrote
that Vasily Kamensky has
been courting her, and that she had decided not to confide
her secrets to
Volodya, who visited her in Moscow, since he would tell
everything to Lily.
And a good thing, too, don't you think? Poor girl! But
she—doesn't it seem to
you?—is gradually growing calmer, cooler. She has things
to distract her: she
reads and works. As for me, I get more and more used
to my own voice,
reading books; I always put myself in the heroine's place.
Nadyusha, you and I have lost Elik, she has gone off to
France in this difficult
time. We are hungry here, while in the city tons of fruit
are rotting. You can't
eat it. Cholera. Elik stopped in to say goodbye to us.
Her husband, the
Frenchman Triolet, was waiting for her under the window,
at Osya's house. He
came to see us once with Elik, in uniform. After Mayakovsky,
Shklovsky, who was in love with her—a Frenchman?!
How the war and revolution have simplified everything!
Everyone lives as
though the end were tomorrow. I alone live for the future.
Mayakovsky went off to Moscow for a few months. I suppose
you saw him?
If so, tell me your impressions. God, why didn't he fall
in love with Elik? Or
you?...I was happy to hear that Mayakovsky had returned
to Peter in the
spring (we've found this substitute for "Petersburg").
His absence from the
city was very hard on me. I kept imagining Osenka billing
and cooing with
Lily, forgiving her everything. But now Elik has told
me that Lily has ceased to
hide her relationship with Mayakovsky. They live together
in a dacha in
Lashovo, right by Peter...
Nadyusha, I am finishing this letter only in October.
I didn’t send it last
summer; papa got worse, and I simply forgot to send it.
Nadenka, I must tell you what will distress you: Mayakovsky
has moved here,
to Zhukovsky St., and has taken lodgings (as they say
now, my dear) on the
same staircase where Lily’s apartment is. In his room
Lily, amid cold and
hunger, practices at the barre, to become more graceful.
And still I wait for Osya. As ever, I wait...
Nadya, I don’t know how I can lift my hand at all to take
hold of the pen. I am
not among the living, Nadya. I am no more. Osya has gone.
He has gone with
her, with the Poet. To you, to Moscow. Will I be able
to wait for him now, as I
have waited 7 years, waited my whole life? . .
Thank you, dear Nadyushka, for you support: strange as
it seems, I haven’t
died. Certainly I couldn’t abandon my father, leave him
alone in cold, hunger,
ruin. We are selling our things, we’re still alive. I
am acting as cook in the
house. If only we had food...They say that they
are assigning more tenants
to apartments. Our apartment is small, the rooms all
adjoin each other, and it’s
impossible to re-plan it, fortunately. We will hope that
we can keep it and that
we don’t acquire neighbors.
In the fall I was in such a state on learning of Osya’s
departure with his family,
that I didn’t write you about Lily’s visit to me. This
visit is worth describing.
Not so much the details, though there were interesting
moments in the
conversation, as my impression of the grown-up Lily.
Here, in Petersburg,
even when I was at their place, I couldn’t see her clearly.
This time she came,
we talked alone together; my father left us. She talked
about her life in the
dacha in Levashovo last summer. Of how Volodya wrote
the screenplay for
“Shackled by Film,” in which they both played roles.
She described how
Osenka shares everything he reads with Mayakovsky, for
Volodya no longer
has time to read. And I know myself what a wonderful
storyteller Osya is.
Mayakovsky values his tales so highly, that during conversations
he goes up
to Osenka and kisses him, saying repeatedly “Let me kiss
your bald spot.”
She talked about how Volodya is a man of enormous tenderness,
hates coarseness and cynicism in people, and has never
raised his voice to his
family, and this and that...
I sat and listened to her and thought unintentionally
about her appearance.
You see, I wanted to understand what it is in her that
holds him. A small body
with a big head, inclined downward. The unsmiling, slightly
bulging eyes of a
sinful angel. A heavy chin, but round, thus softening
the unkind expression
of the eyes. Large upper teeth show when she smiles,
uncovered by her upper
lip. A slightly canine grin: the wrinkles around her
mouth age her, though her
smile is charming. Her haircut is classic, but bangs
don’t make her face softer,
as curls would do. At certain times her face looks masculine.
impression: her face is a coarse one, when all is said
and done. I thus saw her
not with Osenka’s, but with alien eyes. In plain women,
Papa told me, a man
always values one thing, the thing that is most visible
and attractive. For
instance, the figure, the hair. Lily has beautiful thick
hair. Is Lily plain? Yes! Is
she beautiful? Yes, she's that too!
Always well dressed. Nice legs. Maybe these external details
are enough for
Osya. Besides, one has to admit that she is a broad person.
And a splendid
organizer. Osenka cares about richness of the inner life,
his main desire is to
bury himself in books, to read. It obviously suits him
very much that she
knows how to provide a life for them, and draw people
to their house. She
knows how to take power into her hands. She does it not
crudely but intelligently and calmly.
You know, Nadyusha, I even asked her, risking that Osya
would never forgive
me for it, why she and Osya didn’t separate when Mayakovsky
came into her
life? You know what she told me, looking straight into
“To someone who loves Osya as much as you do, Sonechka,
I will say this
frankly. Yes, intimately we grew cold to one another.
I’ll say more. He grew
cold to me. But I couldn’t and still can’t think of life
without Osya. Whomever
I am attracted to, my whole life belongs only to him...When
I told him that
Volodya and I had fallen in love, he answered ‘I
understand you, only let me
and you never be separated.’”
Leaving, at the door she added:
“Sonechka, Osya will never learn that we talked about
The victor disappeared, having comforted the beaten. Yes,
Nadyusha, I admit
that I am beaten, but not everything depends on Lily.
She has broken Osya,
but not me...
My Nadezhda, in these difficult times it is only in summer
that you can even
breathe freely and, maybe, take up the pen. How agonizing
the last two icy
winters were, how much time there was for meditation.
I know about Osenka,
Lily, and Mayakovsky not just from you. I know that they
are together as
before, that Mayakovsky is making the “ROSTA windows.”
I haven’t been
able to see them, but even in Peter already they say
that the windows have
begun to appear. Is Osenka taking part in this? Do you
spend time with them?
Write me about everything, I beg you! And send me everything
Mayakovsky writes. All this is dedicated to Lily, and
this one thing that
isolates them from Osya warms me with hope...
I think a lot on the subject of why they nevertheless
live with Osenka. Yes,
I can agree with you (and Lily) that Osya is in love
with Volodya, and Volodya
with him, and they need each other no less, probably,
than they need Lily. But
there are obviously other reasons...You know, they are
both already so
financially dependent on the Poet, that Lily, who torments
and—does she love him? I’m not even sure—would hardly
leave him. While
Osenka for Lily is such a piece of her life, her love,
that she wouldn’t be
capable of throwing him into penury. From the very start
she couldn’t. Don’t
forget how expensive apartments were. For a man with
it was hard to manage daily life without a servant. He
could hardly allow
himself a servant then, being alone. She was either really
sorry for Osenka or
she didn’t care. She is cynical. And then the divorce
would have to be a
Jewish one (in 1912 a rabbi had married them). You know
what that is? The
man must say three times in the presence of witnesses:
“I don’t want you.”
Can you imagine saying such a thing to Lily? Oh!
Being near Osya also suits her, perhaps, because it tickles
the Poet’s nerves.
Leva Grinkrug told me about Lily’s theory: the poet must
suffer to write well.
You write me how jealous and erratic Mayakovsky is when
he is afraid of her
leaving. Yes, this is evident from his poetry. Does Lily
I assume she doesn’t, but you know when you are told
every second how
much you are loved, how you are a part of someone, and
are furnished an
interesting spiritual life, made a fuss over, and through
all this have enough to eat...
Even before the revolution of '17 Lily was the type of
the new woman,
Chernyshevsky's heroine. By the way, it wouldn't surprise
me to hear that this
is Mayakovsky's favorite book. Lily is now both a worldly
woman and a
commissar of literature, judging from your letters. You
have to agree that she
successfully combines the attractive aspects of both.
Attractive to the
revolutionary poet Volodya, and to the intellect of Osya,
the merchant's son
who has avoided his father's fate by taking up literature.
I can imagine that for Osya her betraying him before his
eyes is a narcotic that
is probably necessary for him. He is emotionally dead.
Oh, Nadyenka, my
imagination is growing morbid, isn't it? Or am I largely
I remember perfectly how the family looked when I dined
with them before
they left Peter for Moscow. Osenka sat with a fixed expression.
looked rapturously at Lily, awaiting her favor. It seems
to me that he does not
know how to take l'initiative sexuelle in his own
hands. It is the mighty Lily
who assigns everyone their roles. Osya: we are not intimate,
but we love each
other. Volodya: tomorrow—I'll think about it; today—you
can go to the end
of your leash, pup, but any further—no, no. Oh, one just
can't be made to
suffer as cruelly as I do, so I will write about my suffering!
The suffering and
the verse alike are works of genius. (So often it's just
his feelings he writes
about). Osya—your business is literature, philosophy.
And that's fine with
Lily—she rules. Both of them gave every appearance of
being under her
Is it just coincidence that Osya is completely indifferent
to intimate relations
with Lily, and with Volodya, too, there might be problems?
We won't discuss
this in too much detail. It's simply that it doesn't
occur to many that men, too,
can have problems in the area of intimate relations.
It does occur to me,
because for 18 years now I have been observing not one,
but two of my
neighbors. One is a polite, intelligent man, an engineer
and a skier; the other is
a university teacher who worships his old mother. Neither
of them has had
intimate relations with a woman at least in the years
that I have known them.
I am absolute convinced of this. Besides, now, after
this damned revolution,
only the well-fed think about being with a woman.
Yes, Nadyusha, I can see that you are angry with me; it
seems to you that I
have allowed myself to judge all three, and have even
mentioned Osenka in
somewhat different tones, which you are quite pleased
about, right? You
want so much for me to forget him as quickly as possible.
But do I judge them? It's just that their life, which
by God's will is connected
to mine, is a part of my life, because Osenka is mine.
I am only trying to
understand if I should wait for him or if there's no
use in my living in this
world, especially now that my poor papa has passed away...
Dear Nadyusha, how happy I am that the difficult rural
period of your life is at
an end, and that you have come back to Moscow! You went
off to the people,
to teach in the middle of nowhere, where there is neither
electricity nor mail.
And you did right, my dear! And opportunely! Osenka was
expelled from the
party during the 1921 purge as the son of a merchant.
How I felt for you, how
I waited for you to return to your previous interesting
life, to the theatre, to
your old friends, to me, finally...
My dear friend, you ask me to give you the literary news
from Peter. And now
I will expect you to give me the news from Moscow...Alas,
I am not much
involved with Petersburg cultural life, these years have
been difficult, and my
previous friends have gone over to the new government,
with which, you
understand, I have no special contacts. In the meantime
I am still holding on
materially, thanks to my late grandmother, my father's
mother, God rest her
soul! But soon I will be looking for work in a school,
here in Peter. My origins,
unlike yours, are quite simple, and I won't have to bury
myself so far away in
the countryside. Don't be surprised, I have my mother's
last name, and it
raises no suspicions.
Anyway, I don't yet know what sort of documents they will
hiring someone. At worst, I will go to your backwoods,
when there is
absolutely nothing left to sell.
I write this frankly because I am passing this letter
on by hand, otherwise it's
not a good idea to discuss things openly in letters,
In April I suddenly received from Osenka the first
issue of the journal "LEF"
and a letter. The journal includes Mayakovsky's poem
"About This" and
Osenka's story "No Fellow Traveler." The letter was long.
I still don't
understand why Osenka suddenly shared with me the fact
that Volodya got
involved in 1921 with Zinaida Ginzburg, but Lily, being
in Riga, found out
about it and instructed him not to see her. And it was
even more surprising
that he thought it necessary to inform me that Lily was
having an affair with
Krasnoshchekov, an important party functionary. And the
affair was quite a
serious one, too, having begun in summer of last year.
They were dacha
neighbors near Moscow. I write you this so that, when
you are with your
beloved Mayakovsky, you will be up on things.
Osenka suddenly wrote so much about Volodya, in particular
about his notion
of love! I quote especially for you: "Mayakovsky understands
love this way:
if you love me, it means you are with me always, everywhere
and under all
circumstances. There can be no situation in which you
are against me,
however wrong or unfair or cruel I am. Your vote is always
for me." That, dear
Nadyusha, is what Volodya dreams of, loving his faithless
Mayakovsky's view, love is not a sexual act, but a state
of the organism, like
weight, like gravity." How right Osenka is, and how evident
this is from
Mayakovsky's verse! His poetry is his love, and vice
versa. That is why Lily
is so poeticized that he loves her.
Now I will quote you a few more pieces from Osenka's letter
beloved Mayakovsky: "Have there been women who have loved
that? Yes. Did he love them? He took them into consideration."
He also added
that, in Lily's words, it was important to Mayakovsky
that those who had not
yet come should come, and that she who, as it seemed
to him, did not yet love,
should love. That's Mayakovsky's secret! Lily, though,
hates conditions and
thinks she can love whomever she wants, when and where
she wants, but
without bonds!...The more she fails to love, the more
fiercely he demands this
love. See how he groans in his verse! And I like it so
much when a man speaks
aloud about his feelings. Perhaps because Osya is so
reserved, and has never
expressed his feelings?
But doesn't it seem to you, my dear, that something has
happened to my
impenetrable and reserved Osenka? He suddenly shared
so many things with
me...Will I now become his "shoulder," if not to cry
on, then at least for
confessions, or...Has he decided to leave me? What do
I thought a very long time, and in the end in my reply
I discussed love and
didn't comment on the facts of Mayakovksy's and Lily's
main thing for me is how Osenka relates to this. This
he said not a word
about...But then why was he telling me this?
He writes that Volodya, he and Lily will go to Germany
this year. I am very
afraid that Osenka will stay there for good. And how
will they let them all
Dear Nadenka, thank you for your letters, I found them
on returning from the
dacha. I am happy that you saw your beloved Mayakovsky.
Did you like
their crowded dacha? How does Osenka look? It's been
so long since I've seen
him! Thank you for your invitation as well. But coming
to Moscow and being
in the same city with him and seeing each other for ten
minutes would be hard for me, and besides now it’s absurd to even dream
of this. You write yourself that they are leaving for Germany. They hope
to meet Elsochka Triolet there.
That's who I would like to see, but that's not to be
dreamed of now either...
You know, Nadyusha, I re-read your letters to me and some
of mine to you
(sometimes I make a copy for myself before sending them
to you). I looked at
myself with detachment and understood that I live a made-up,
frozen life. And I considered. I'm getting old, you know.
It's lucky that Osenka
doesn't see me. I've gained weight, become immobile,
I sit and from habit look
out the window and wait for Osya. No, it's really time
that I thought of work,
and not the translating I recently began doing for the
publishers, but working
with live people. The only live people for me in recent
years were Osenka,
Lily and Mayakovksy, to be honest. But that's nonsense!
You, for me, are a
part of my soul...
P.S. It’s strange that Krasnoshchekov, in your opinion,
looks just like Osya,
only with hair. Could it be that Lily loves Osya so much
that she has found
his double? That she doesn't love Mayakovsky I have for
some time not
doubted. Well, now that Krasnoshchekov has been arrested,
she will turn her
attention to Osenka again. Now I’m in for it!...
Dear Nadyusha, you agreed so quickly with my thought that
my whole life is
concentrated only on this threesome, that I am even a
little offended. And
how could you suspect me of writing you only to get news
about Osya and
his family? Do you suppose that my mythical dreams of
uniting my life with
Osenka—I come more and more often now to the thought
that this will take
place in heaven—that these dreams are dearer to me than
relationship, my dear person? How could this come into
your head? Osenka’s
life for me is so elusive, he’s traveling now, I’m afraid
he’s utterly forgotten
my name, may God be with him, my beloved...
Tell me everything about yourself. And write and often
as you can!... Not a
word about them, I beg you! I will drown in my love,
and that’s fine! I don’t
need gulps of air: news about him, them...
Nadya, you won’t like it, but I can’t be silent. Do you
Fridland? She came to see me recently, and told me how
a couple of years ago
she had gone to Moscow, since a fairly large sum of money
had been left for
her there; otherwise she couldn’t have survived. Her
father, it seems, had sent
it from Germany. On the way home she had met your dear
Mayakovsky on the
train. They talked nicely, and she told him why she had
gone to Moscow. She
invited him to visit her. Just imagine, he came. They
played cards for money.
He beat her! And how! She gave him all the money she
had brought from
Moscow! Enough to live on for two years! Poor Nadenka
stood in the
doorway while your idol was leaving, and wept. The rascal
“took pity” and
gave her 10 rubles. I don’t want to hear about this person!
Good luck to him, to Mayakovsky, but I...I read over what
I have written, and
understood: you’re right! I can’t live without Osya!
He, Osya, is special,
axial,* my guiding star! There is no name dearer, no
person more splendid.
That Osya married Lily and has not left her for me can’t
be compared, for me,
even to the bloody years of famine! And still, I can’t
live without him.
Forgive me, forgive me, Nadya...
On finding out that Osip Brik had begun an affair with
Zhemchuzhnaya (née Sokolova), Sonechka took her
*Another play on the name Osya: osobennyi (special)
and osevoi (axial).