Letters of Rosa Luxemburg
A selection stripped entirley from The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis and Annelis Laschitza.
[Paris, March 21, 1895]
My dearest, only, beloved Dziodzio!
Finally I'm taking a break. I'm terribly exhausted both physically and spiritually. For the first time since my arrival I'm finally alone. At this moment I have my own place to live and I've moved in. I have a charming room, it's almost like a small salon, and my dream is that you'll come here and we can both be here together. (You could get a room in the same house.)
It's near the Adolfs [Warskis] and very far from the library, but over there one can't even think of getting a room for less than 50 to 75 francs. For that reason it's better to travel back and forth once a day on the streetcar. I make the trip early. I have lunch there not far [from the library] at a private home (of some Poles, Social Democrats!), Adolf [Warski] only eats there. Then I go back to the library, and in the evening travel home. The library's open now from 9 to 5. But never mind about these particulars of daily life.
My golden one, my only one, in my thoughts I embrace you and rest my head on your chest, with my eyes closed, to get some rest. I am so exhausted! And what about you way off there, poor thing, no sooner were you free of us than you had to start work on your pamphlet. How little time you have! Or is the work going well for you?
You little monkey, I know you. Now you'll answer me the same way, with an intimate letter, and as soon as I start writing dryly, you'll be sure to do likewise. You little monkey, you have to imitate me in everything. You never have a mood of your own (except when you're furiously raging and [then you're] unbearable). But are you in my situation? Are your impressions [and perceptions] the same as mine? What do you imitate me for? Sometimes it really seems to me that you're [like] a piece of wood. It was said once, or it actually happened, that you loved me, and now you're trying to act as if that were so, that you love me. But from within yourself, you never feel an active impulse in this direction [A sam ze siebie nigdy nie czujesz czegoś aktywnego w tym kierunku]. Oh, you're horrible, and I don't like you.
You know, if you were here, you'd really be happy. Here for the first time one can get a sense of the importance of Sprawa Robotnicza. Adolf tells me that recently it's made more of an impression than it ever has before. The social patriots are constantly feeling under pressure because of it, and they wait with trepidation for the appearance of each new issue (those were Adolf's words). Why is that? I asked him, in order to find out more. Well, they're afraid of such articles as "Na Kongress"(56) and "Pod bat."(57)
The interest [in our journal] is enormous. People are constantly asking for the latest issues and actually scrambling to get hold of the "Independent Poland."(58)But the best is yet to come.
In the local section here of the Union of Polish Socialists Abroad(59) the leading figure is [Kelles-]Krauz (a friend of Stasia and Janek). In November he gave a talk to the section in which he strongly criticized the Union Abroad and the tactics of the PPS and Predswit. He referred to "Pod bat" and indicated that many of our criticisms are quite correct, and he called for a response on the topics [we had raised]. Among other things he asked the PPS reproachfully why the Robotnik "had not uttered a single word about the program." Further, he said: Undoubtedly the most important expression of PPS tactics was the Kościuszko celebration.(60) But what vacillations, how much inconsistency the PPS displayed in organizing the celebration. Why a joint celebration with the patriots? (In some respects [this was] a reiteration of "Dwie daty.") [Mniej wiecej stresczcenie "Dwóch dat."](61) These were all mistakes, "which our opponents (he's referring to us) have made use of with such passion and such exaggeration." To put it briefly — it's hitting home! Every blow of ours strikes hard at their Achilles' heel. You ask where I know all this from. It's a simple matter. The Paris section decided to print the talk by K[elles-Krauz] and — had it printed at Reiff's. But obviously the Londoners and Zurichers got cold feet and prevented it from being circulated in any way. Thus the little pamphlet did not make its appearance (it's the one I wrote you about in the postcard). It's a shame, a great shame, [because] it's a concoction that would be of priceless service to us in every respect. In it, for example, there is an objection to German Social Democracy as an "appalling swamp" [Jest tam np. zarzucanie niemieckeiej sojaldemokracji "przerazajacego zabagnienia"]. (All the social patriots here are "Allemanistes"(62) and the term "Guesdiste"(63) is for them a dirty word.) The argument is made — in order to dispose of us — that we are repeating word for word the tactics and programmatic concepts of Bebel, Liebknecht, and Guesde, while they pay homage to the "true revolutionary, Nieuwenhuis." Unfortunately this pamphlet can't be used, because that would be regarded as a theft, but it can be used, as Adolf says, as a "weapon in reserve," since one can at a suitable moment make it known to the Przedświt people that we possess a copy. I'll send you a confidential copy. Adolf got hold of it and gave it to me confidentially without Jadzia's knowledge, because with her moral conceptions she considers it swinishness [to take someone else's pamphlet] and has forbidden him to say anything to me about it. As you see, we are now standing exactly where we wanted to be. At all times I'm keeping them in suspense. One minute they're impressed by our issues dealing with the tsar, and the next thing they know they're getting a hiding because of the Robotnik, and finally the issue with the workers' letters will be a sensation because it shows our ties with the homeland.(64) In short, everything would be splendid if it were not for this damned smuggling situation.(65) What's wrong? What's the problem there? It's definitely making me anxious about what's going to happen. When will we straighten it out? You remind me about the deadline and shout for the issues to be made ready. But don't forget that Reiff prints very slowly, and I can't do anything about that. He says he can't go any faster, and that's all. If we could give the job to the Goupys, it would be done in three days, but then it would cost 105 F. instead of 85 (because it's 5 F. for the typesetting but Reiff includes that in his charges).
For God's sake send the addresses so that the May and December packages can be sent off, because I'm ashamed that after such a big row they're still lying there. Because of that, Reiff no longer has any regard for the pressure I put on him. At least the packages should be lying around over there, but not here. So I'm waiting for the addresses. It's impossible to put everything in one package, because waiting until the other issues are done would take too long. Would it be better if I sent everything to you there, so that you would pack it all up? Because it's very difficult for me here to get it all packaged properly, so that it's ready to be mailed, and we have written to Dicken(66) to tell him that he should just tear off the outer newspaper wrapper. This [work] can't be done at the Adolfs, because there's not room enough, and also, people keep showing up there; for example, Morek [Warszawski; Adolf's brother] can't just be turned away. (Besides that, moving such large packages would immediately attract the attention of the concierge.) There can be no question of bringing the material here to where I live. There's a police agent who regularly visits the concierge. (Write to me with caution. If necessary, use a code, as with Karol [Brzezina]. Instead of my last name, put an x over an m.) Otherwise the concierge is ready to make a denunciation because she's just a simple-minded woman. After having thought it over, I now see that definitely the first thing is to send [the material] to you in Zurich. I can't let Reiff's people do the packaging, because they would never do it the way you do. They would do it sloppily, as usual. So you yourself, together with Julek [Marchlewski], have to do it. So write immediately, at least a postcard, as to whether you agree with all this and whether everything necessary should be sent to Zurich.
See how base and vile [podly] you are. I already sense that every word about the stupidest [political] business interests you twice as much, ten times as much, a hundred times as much as when I pour my heart out to you. The moment you read any detail about the PPS your eyes light up immediately, quite differently from when I write you something about myself, that I'm tired or that I have a yearning, etc.
Ah, you Gold! I have some very fearsome intentions for you, you know! Really, while I've been here, I've been letting it run through my head a little, the question of our relationship, and when I return I'm going to take you in my claws so sharply that it will make you squeal, you'll see. I will terrorize you completely. You will have to submit [pokorit'sa]. You will have to give in and bow down. That is the condition for our living together further. I must break you, [and] grind the sharp edges off your horns, or else I can't continue with you. You are a bad-tempered person, and now, within myself, I am as sure of that as that the sun is in the sky, after having thought about your entire spiritual physiognomy. And I'll smother this rage and fury that you have in yourself as sure as I'm alive. Such weeds can't be allowed to get in among the cabbages. I have the right to do this because I'm ten times better than you, and I quite consciously condemn this very salient aspect of your character. I am now going to terrorize you without any mercy until you become gentle, and begin to feel and conduct yourself toward other people as any ordinary good person would. At one and the same time I feel a boundless love for you and an implacable strictness toward the failings in your character. Therefore note well — get a hold of yourself! Because I'm already standing here with the carpet beater in my hand, and as soon as I arrive I'm going to start beating the dust out of you.
Undoubtedly there's a lot in the words above that you don't understand, but I'll explain it to you after I get back. And now, as the beginning of my reign of terror: think about it, be good! Write kind and gentle letters, and don't address me with the formal "you," which is a tactless piece of crudity on your part. Don't pick apart my letters, be humble, and tell me you love me without being afraid that you will be demeaning yourself if, say, just for today, you give me three pennies more than I give you. Don't be afraid and don't be ashamed to express your feelings for me (if you still have them, because I will use no force on you in that regard), and don't have any anxiety that I may not accept them with the accustomed respect. Learn to kneel down in spirit a little, and do it not only at those moments when with open arms I call to you but also when I'm standing with my back to you. In a word, be more generous, more magnanimous, relate to your feelings in a more noble way. I demand it! Unfortunately I feel certain deficiencies of character in myself from constantly being around you, but that only spurs me on to struggle with you more vigorously than ever. Think about it. You must submit, because I will force you to through the power of love. Gold, my only one, be well. I embrace you and kiss you many hundreds of times, Ciucia, my one and only!…
Dearest Gold, I beg of you, send me some money [that I can use] for me! But send it right away.
Gold, you've received some caviar there for me from Rostov (a present from my brother). You've gone wild [over it], right? But don't you dare eat it up. Put off that urge until [we're in] Weggis!!
Scoundrel, send me your photograph right away!!!
Forward my letters without delay.
My address: Avenue Reille 7, au 3-ème
To Mathilde Wurm
[Wronke i. P., Fortress,
February 16, 1917]
(send your letters directly here sealed and without the notation "prisoner-of-war letter.")
My dear Tilde!
Letter, postcard, and cookies received — many thanks. Be at peace; despite the fact that you so boldly parried my thrust and are even challenging me to a duel,(657) I remain as kindly disposed toward you as ever. I had to laugh that you want to "engage in combat" with me. Girl, I sit firmly in the saddle, no one yet has stretched me out on the sand; I would be interested to see the one who can do it. It was for a different reason, though, that I had to smile: because you really don't want to "engage in combat" with me at all, and you even depend on me politically more than you want to believe is true. I will always remain a compass for you, because your very nature tells you that I have the most unerring judgment — in my case all the distracting side issues fall away: anxiety or nervousness, routinism, parliamentary cretinism, things that color the judgment of others. You argue against my slogan, "Here I stand — I can do no other!" Your argument comes down to the following: that is all well and good, but human beings are too cowardly and weak for such heroism, ergo one must adapt one's tactics to their weakness and to the principle che va piano, va sano.(658) What narrowness of historical outlook, my little lamb! There is nothing more changeable than human psychology. That's especially because the psyche of the masses, like Thalatta,(659) the eternal sea, always bears within it every latent possibility: deathly stillness and raging storm, the basest cowardice and the wildest heroism. The masses are always what they must be according to the circumstances of the times, and they are always on the verge of becoming something totally different from what they seem to be. It would be a fine sea captain who would steer a course based only on the momentary appearance of the ocean's surface and did not understand how to draw conclusions from signs in the sky and in the ocean's depths. My dear little girl, "disappointment with the masses" is always the most reprehensible quality to be found in a political leader. A leader with the quality of greatness applies tactics, not according to the momentary mood of the masses, but according to higher laws of development, and sticks firmly to those tactics despite all disappointments and, for the rest, calmly allows history to bring its work to fruition.
With that let us close the debate. I willingly remain your friend.
Whether I also remain a teacher for you, as you want, depends on you.
You reminisce about an evening six years ago when we were waiting by the shore of the Schlachtensee [a lake in Berlin] for the comet to appear.(660) Oddly enough, I have absolutely no recollection of that. But you have awakened another memory for me. At that time on an October evening I was sitting with Hans Kautsky (the painter) by the Havel River, across from the Peacock Island, and we were also waiting to see the comet. The twilight had already deepened, but on the horizon a dim reddish-purple strip was still aglow, and it was mirrored in the Havel, transforming the surface of the water into a vast enormous rose petal. Across the way a buoy sounded softly, and in one area the water was sprinkled with many dark spots. These were wild ducks, who were taking a rest from their flight along the Havel, and their muffled cry, in which here is so much longing and a sense of vast, empty expanse — they were conveying that cry across the water to us. The mood was wonderful, and we were sitting there in silence as though entranced. I was looking toward the Havel River. Hans happened to be looking at me [with his back to the river]. Suddenly he behaved as though he were appalled and grasped me by the hand: What was wrong with me? he cried out. Behind his back a meteor had fallen and had flooded me with a green phosphorous light so that I looked as pale green as a corpse, and because I started and had a strikingly startled expression on my face, because of the same spectacle [behind his back] that he could not see, Hans probably thought I was having a fatal attack and was dying. (Later he created a beautiful big painting of that evening on the Havel.)
To me it is disastrous that you now have no time or mood for anything but "item number one," namely the miserable state of the party, because such one-sidedness also clouds one's political judgment, and above all one must at all times live as a complete human being. But look here, girl, if the fact is that you seldom get around to picking up a book, then at least read only the good ones, not such kitsch as the "Spinoza novel" which you sent me. What do you want with this theme of the "special suffering of the Jews"? I am just as much concerned with the poor victims on the rubber plantations of Putumayo, the Blacks in Africa with whose corpses the Europeans play catch. You know the words that were written about the great work of the General Staff, about Gen. Trotha's campaign in the Kalahari desert:(661) "And the death rattles of the dying, the demented cries of those driven mad by thirst faded away in the sublime stillness of eternity." Oh that "sublime stillness of eternity," in which so many cries of anguish have faded away unheard, they resound within me so strongly that I have no special place in my heart for the [Jewish] ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.
Yesterday evening there were amazingly beautiful pink clouds above the walls of my fortress. I stood in front of my grated window and recited to myself my favorite poem by Mörike:
Into a friendly city I came one day.
Along its streets the ruddy glow of sunset lay.
From an open window just then,
Across a most luxuriant spread of flowers,
Far off I heard the golden trembling of bells,
And a single human voice had the sound of a nightingale chorus,
So that all the flowers quivered,
So that all fragrances became more vivid,
So that a higher redness touched the rose.
Long was I held there, dazed with delight, astonished.
How I came out of the city gates,
To tell the truth, I do not know myself.
And here — how lightly lies the world around me.
The heavens heave with crowds decked out in purple,
The city's in a golden haze, behind me.
How the stream roars amidst its alder bushes!
How the ground groans with the grinding millstones!
Like one who's drunk too much, I'm at a loss.
O Muse, you've moved my heart to tears,
With your silken fetters of love!
And so, may life treat you well, my fine young girl. Heaven knows when I'll have a chance to write you again. Nowadays I have no inclination for writing. But I owed you this one.
I send you a kiss and a hearty squeeze of the hand, your R.
To Hans Diefenbach
[Wronke i. P., March 30, 1917]
L. H. [Liebes Hänschen — Dear Hans]
In the midst of my lovely, laboriously achieved state of equilibrium, last night before going to sleep I was again seized by a despair blacker than the night. And today is also another gray day, without sun — a cold east wind … I feel like a frozen bumblebee; have you ever found a bumblebee like that in the garden after the first frosty autumn morning, lying on its back quite cold and still as though dead, lying in the grass with its little legs drawn in and its little fur coat covered with hoarfrost? Only when the sun warms it thoroughly do the little legs slowly start to move and extend themselves, then the little body starts to turn over [getting off its back], and finally the bumblebee clumsily rises into the air with a grumbling, droning sound. I always made it my business to kneel down next to such a frozen bumblebee and waken it back to life by blowing on it with my warm breath. If only the sun would wake poor me from this deathly coldness! Meanwhile I fight against the devils in my insides like Luther — by means of the inkwell. And therefore you must serve as a kind of sacrificial lamb and put up with a barrage of letters. Until you have loaded your big guns I will be peppering you with my small-caliber fire so much that it will keep you frightened and on edge. By the way, if you loaded your cannon with the same speed at the front [as in writing to me], then our current retreat on the Somme and at Ancre really doesn't surprise me, and you will surely have it on your conscience if we have to make peace without annexing beautiful Flanders.
I thank you very much for the small book by Ricarda Huch about [Gottfried] Keller. Last week, when I was in quite a wretched mood, I read it with pleasure. Ricarda is really an extremely clever and intelligent person, only her so evenly balanced, restrained, and self-controlled style seems to me somewhat forced. Her classicism strikes me as somewhat pseudo-classical and overly deliberate. Whoever is truly rich and free within themselves can indeed give of themselves naturally at any time and let their passion sweep them along without being untrue to themselves. I've also been reading Gottfried Keller again: the Zurich Novellas and Martin Salander. Please don't hit the ceiling over this, but Keller definitely cannot write a novel or a novella. What he produces is always a story, he tells a tale about long-gone, dead things and people, but I never experience something happening in the present. I constantly see only the teller of tales, who digs up all sorts of lovely old memories, as old people like to do. Only the first part of Der grüne Heinrich really lives. In spite of "that, Keller always does me good, because he's such a fine fellow, who one finds quite loveable and with whom one is happy to sit and chat about the most insignificant things and listen to his recollections in minutest detail.
I've never known such a springtime or experienced one to such a full extent as the one last year at this time. Maybe that's because it came after a year in a prison cell(668) or because at that time I had an exact knowledge of every bush and every blade of grass and therefore I could follow the unfolding in every particular detail. Do you remember, only a few years ago in Südende, in the case of a yellow-blossoming bush, we tried so hard to guess what it was likely to be. You made "the proposal" that we recognize it to be "laburnum." Of course it was no such thing! How glad I am that three years ago I suddenly plunged into the study of botany the way I do everything, immediately, with all my fire and passion, with my entire being, so that the world, the party, and my work faded away for me and only one passion filled me up both day and night: to be outdoors roaming about in the springtime fields, to gather plants until my arms were full, and then at home to put them in order, identify them, and put them between the pages of a scrapbook to dry. How I lived through the whole springtime then as though in a fever, how much I suffered when I sat in front of a new little plant and for a long time couldn't identify it and didn't know how to classify it; many times I almost fainted, fretting over such cases, so that Gertrud [Zlottko] became so worried that she threatened to take the plants away from me. As a result I am now at home in the realm of greenery. I have conquered it — by storm — and what you take on with fire and passion becomes firmly rooted inside you.
Last spring I had another partner in these wanderings: Karl [Liebknecht]. Perhaps you know how he lived for many years: always busy with parliament, [sitting in] sessions, commissions, discussions, in a rush and under pressure, always leaping from the streetcar onto the electric train and from the electric train into a car, all his pockets crammed full with notepads, his arms full of freshly bought newspapers, which he could not possibly have had time to read, his body and soul covered with dust from the street, and yet all the while with a kind and loving young smile on his face. Last spring I forced him to take a brief pause, to remember that aside from the Reichstag and the State Assembly [of Prussia] a world also existed, and he went strolling with Sonja [Liebknecht] and me several times through the fields and in the botanical garden. How happy he could become, like a child, at the sight of a birch tree with its young catkins! Once we took a hike across the fields toward Marienfelde. You also know that way — do you know what I'm talking about? — We took that route together once in the fall, and we had to make our way over the stubble in the fields. Last April with Karl, however, it was in the morning, and the fields were covered with fresh green sprouts from the winter sowing. A mild wind was chasing gray clouds across the sky by fits and starts here and there, and the fields gleamed at one moment in bright sunshine and at the next moment would darken in shadow into an emerald green — a magnificent play of color as we tramped along in silence. Suddenly Karl stopped and stood still and began jumping in a bizarre way, but with a serious expression on his face the whole time. I looked at him with astonishment and was even a bit frightened. "What's going on with you?" "I feel so blissful," he answered simply, at which of course we all burst out laughing like fools. Aff'ly. R.
[P.S.] You wrongly wanted to classify me as "the fairest gem" in the pearl necklace of Hindenburg's "apes from Asia and Africa." According to the official explanation, I am not a "prisoner of war." The proof: I have to pay for the stamps for my letters.
To Marta Rosenbaum
[Wronke, April 29, 1917]
My dear Martchen!
This time, I fear, nothing will go right. On Friday I was so flustered (and probably will be today as well), and my head's going round and round so much that I can by no means just sit there and chat calmly and openly with you. It is definitely the result of the redoubled supervision [by the prison authorities], and there's nothing to be done about it. My guess is that you feel the same way. But to at least see you and feel your nearness is truly a comfort for me. It's too bad that it's all going at such a gallop. Next time you must come on Thursday and stay until Monday or Tuesday. Whether anything more will come of our "kiss goodbye" tomorrow, I don't know. But even if things don't go well, we must get through it anyhow. I've already prepared myself for that. How thankful I am to you for coming! Don't worry about me, health-wise. It's true that with my stomach things are still not going better, but with my nerves on the whole there is some slow progress. That means my stomach will probably calm down too, if only spring would come! Sun and warmth and fresh young greenery are the most important things for my general condition, as you well know! Well now, the wonderful events in Russia are also having a good effect on me, like a life-giving elixir. For all of us, what's coming from there is a message of healing. I'm afraid that all of you don't have a sufficiently full appreciation of it, that you don't realize well enough that it is our own cause that is winning there. It must and will have a redeeming impact on the whole world, it must radiate out to all of Europe. I am convinced with rock-hard certainty that a new epoch is now beginning and that the war cannot last very long. Therefore I would like to hear that you are in a better frame of mind, that all of you are in an uplifted and joyful mood — in spite of all that still exists of misery and horror. You see that history knows how to manage things even when they seem most unmanageable. Be cheerful and bright for me, I embrace you a thousand times and send many best wishes to Kurtchen [Kurt Rosenfeld]. Your R.
To Hans Diefenbach
[Wronke, May 12, 1917]
L. H. [Liebes Hänschen — Dear Hans]
No. 5 received, many thanks; I'm waiting for your style corrections.(682) (Partly you've been troubling yourself, as I see, [merely] about mistakes made by the typist.) Your comment that in the Anti-Critique some passages are mixed up or garbled to the point of being unrecognizable definitely spurs me on to go over the whole thing again myself. Otherwise, I would not be capable, I never am, of rereading something once it has been written, and the more intensely I experience the writing of it, so much the more for me is it finished and done with afterwards. I know very well, Hänschen, that my economic works are written as though "for six persons only." But actually, you know, I write them for only one person: for myself. The time when I was writing the [first] Accumulation of Capital belongs to the happiest of my life. Really I was living as though in euphoria, "on a high," saw and heard nothing else, day or night, but this one question, which unfolded before me so beautifully, and I don't know what to say about which gave me the greater pleasure: the process of thinking, when I was turning a complicated problem over in my mind, pacing slowly back and forth through the room, under the close and attentive observation of Mimi [the cat], who lay on the red plush tablecloth with her little paws curled under her and kept turning her wise head back and forth to follow my movements; or the process of giving shape and literary form to my thoughts with pen in hand. Do you know, at that time I wrote the whole 30 signatures [Bogen] all at one go in four months' time — an unprecedented event! — and without rereading the brouillon [the rough draft], not even once, I sent it off to be printed. Things went the same way for me in Barnim Street [women's prison] with the Anti-Critique. And then, after experiencing the work so intensely, I lost all interest in it, to such an extent that since then I've hardly troubled myself about a publisher. Anyway, given my "circumstances" during the past year and a half, that [worrying about a publisher] was rather difficult. — As for Eckstein, you very definitely overrate him. His "critique" [of the Accumulation of Capital (1913)] was nothing but his revenge for fruitless attempts to befriend me, which I roughly rejected, and it is precisely this transference of the "all-too-human" into the refined, upper Alpine region of pure science that has filled me with such contempt for him. He was capable, by the way, of being quite witty and nice. On one occasion at the Kautskys', when I was making dubious and vain attempts in the antechamber to get my jacket down from the hat and coat stand, cursing my own Lilliputian stature, he gallantly handed down the jacket and smilingly murmured a line from a song by [Hugo] Wolf: "The little things also can enchant us …" [Auch kleine Dinge koennen uns entzuecken.] (You probably know that in Vienna, Hugo Wolf had links with the house of Eckstein, and that he is regarded there as a household deity.)
— Your idea that I should write a book about Tolstoy doesn't appeal to me one bit. For whom? What for, Hänschen? Everyone can read Tolstoy's books, and if the books themselves don't give off a powerful breath of life, I wouldn't succeed in doing so through literary commentary. Can anyone "explain" to someone else what Mozart's music is? Can one "explain" what is the magic of life? [What's the use] if people don't hear it for themselves, don't deduce it from the littlest everyday things, or more exactly: if they don't carry it within their own being? I also regard, for example, the monstrous amount of Goethe literature (that is, literature about Goethe) as pure trash, and it is my opinion that far too many such books have been written. What with all the literary noise, people forget to look at the world and all its beauty.
Well then, since the first [of May] we have had a series of sunny days, and I am already being greeted on my awakening by the first ray of morning, because my windows here face east. In Südende, where my residence, as you know, is like a lantern exposed to the sun in all directions, such morning hours take shape in a very lovely way. After breakfast I used to take the heavy crystal prism with its countless angles and facets, the one that lay on the desk as a paperweight, and put it in the sunlight, and the sunrays would immediately be scattered over the floor and walls in hundreds of little splashes of rainbow light. Mimi kept fascinated watch over this game, especially when I moved the prism and made the bright colors dart here and there and dance around. At first she ran and jumped up high, to catch at them, but soon she deduced that there was "nothing" to them, that they were just an optical illusion, and then she would watch the dance with her merry little eyes, without bestirring herself. We achieved fascinating effects when, for example, a tiny rainbow landed on a white hyacinth in the window box or on the marble bust above the desk or on the large bronze clock in front of the mirror. The cleanly swept, sun-filled room with its bright wallpaper breathed so much comfort and peace, the chirping of the sparrows penetrating through the open balcony door, along with the hum from time to time of an electric train that glided past or the distinct metallic clanking of workers repairing the rails somewhere [nearby]. Then I would take my hat and go out into the fields to see what had grown overnight, and to gather fresh, juicy grass for Mimi. Here too I go out into the little garden right after breakfast, and [there] I have something splendid to keep me busy: watering the "plantation" I have in front of my window. I arranged for a pretty little watering can to be purchased for me, and I must run with it to the water tank probably a dozen times before the whole flowerbed is moist enough. The spurting sprays of water gleam in the morning sunshine, and the drops still tremble for a long time on the pink and blue hyacinths, which are half closed. Why am I nonetheless sad? I almost think I've overrated the sun in the sky and its strength. It may still shine so strongly, but sometimes it doesn't warm me at all — if my own heart borrows no warmth from it. R.
To Sophie Liebknecht
[Wronke, Mat 23, 1917]
Sonyusha, my darling, your last letter, dated May 14 (but with the 18th stamped on the envelope!), was already here when I mailed my last letter to you. I'm so glad to be in touch with you again and would like to send you warm Whitsuntide greetings today.
"Whitsuntide, the sweet and lovely holiday, had come." That's how Goethe's Reynard the Fox [Reineke Fuchs] begins. I hope you will spend it somewhat cheerfully. Last year at Whitsuntide the three of us, [you and me] with Mathilde [Wurm], made that delightful excursion to Lichtenrade, where I picked the tassels of grain for Karl and the marvelous sprig of birch catkins. In the evening we went for another walk through the fields at Südende, with roses in our hands like the "three noblewomen of Ravenna." Here the lilacs are already in bloom now, the buds opened today; it's so warm that I had to put on my lightest summer dress. In spite of the sunshine and warmth, little by little my friends the birds have fallen almost completely silent. They are obviously all preoccupied with the business of hatching their eggs; the females are sitting, and the males have "their beaks full" with things to do, seeking food for themselves and their mates. Also, their nests are probably more out in the fields or in the larger trees, at any rate it's quiet in my little garden now, only now and then a nightingale sounds off briefly, or the greenfinch makes its chattering trill, or late in the evening the chaffinch still warbles once or twice. My titmice are no longer to be seen anywhere. The only thing was that yesterday from a distance I had a brief greeting, all of a sudden, from a blue titmouse, and that completely shook me up. The blue titmouse is not like the great titmouse, which stays here all winter; the blue one comes back to us only at the end of March. At first this blue titmouse always stayed close to my window, came with the others to be fed, and diligently sang its funny little song, tsee-tsee-bay, but it drew out the sound so much that it sounded like the mischievous teasing of a child. It always made me laugh, and I would answer with the same call. Then the bird vanished with the others at the beginning of this month, no doubt nesting elsewhere. I had seen and heard nothing of it for weeks. Yesterday its well-known notes came suddenly from the other side of the wall which separates our courtyard from another part of the prison; but it was considerably altered, for the bird called three times in brief succession, tsee-tsee-bay, tsee-tsee-bay, tsee-tsee-bay, and then all was still. It went to my heart, for there was so much conveyed by this hasty call from the distance — a whole history of bird life. There was a reminiscence of the splendid days of wooing in the spring, when the birds could sing and flirt all day long; now the blue titmouse had to be on the wing all the time catching flies and gnats for itself and its family. The bird seemed to be saying: "I've no time to spare — oh yes, it was lovely — but spring is quickly over — tsee-tsee bay, tsee-tsee-bay, tsee-tsee-bay! Believe me, Sonyusha, a little snatch of bird song in which there is so much expression can stir me to the depths. My mother, who considered the Bible (next to Schiller) the highest source of wisdom, was firmly convinced that King Solomon understood the language of birds. Back then, with all the superiority of my fifteen years and my training in natural science, I used to smile at my mother's naiveté. But now I myself am like King Solomon: I too understand the language of the birds, and of all animals. Not, of course, as if they were using human words, but I understand the most varied shades of meaning and of feeling conveyed by their tones. Only to the rude ear of one who is quite indifferent does the song of a bird seem always the same. If one has a love of animals, and a sympathetic understanding of them, one finds great diversity of expression, an entire "language." Even the universal silence that exists now after the clamor of early spring is full of expression, and I know that if I'm still here in the autumn, which in all probability will be the case, all my friends will come back to seek food at my window; I'm already rejoicing now at the return of one particular great titmouse, with whom I have struck up an especially heartfelt friendship.
Sonyusha, you are embittered about my long imprisonment and ask: "How is it that [some] human beings are allowed to decide about the lives of others? What's the meaning of it all?" Forgive me, my darling, but I had to laugh out loud when I read that. In The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, one of the characters, Madame Khokhlakova, used to ask exactly the same kind of question, and in doing so would look around helplessly from one member of the company to another, but before anyone could try to answer the question, she had jumped over to something entirely different. My dear little bird, the whole history of human civilization, which according to moderate estimates has lasted some twenty thousand years, is based on "some human beings deciding about the lives of others"; the practice is deeply rooted in the material conditions of existence. Nothing but further development, an agonizing process, can change such things, and at this very time we are witnesses to one such agonizing transition, and you ask, "What's the meaning of it all?" Your question is not a reasonable one to ask concerning the totality of life and its forms. Why are there blue titmice in the world? I really don't know, but I'm glad there are, and I experience it as a sweet consolation when a hasty tsee-tsee-bay sounds suddenly from the distance.
By the way, you overestimate my "serenity," Sonyichka. My inner equanimity and my blissful happiness can, unfortunately, go to pieces at the slightest shadow that falls across me, and then I suffer inexpressibly, only I have the peculiarity that at such times I suffer in silence. Literally, Sonyichka, I cannot make a single word cross my lips. For example, during the last few days I was definitely feeling so bright and cheerful and rejoicing in the sunshine, then suddenly, on Monday, an icy windstorm took hold of me — I don't know "why" or "what for" — and in an instant my radiant cheerfulness changed into the deepest misery. And if my soul's happiness had suddenly appeared in person, standing in front of me, I could not have brought a single sound out of my mouth and I could have expressed my lament of despair at most by staring silently. In fact I seldom have much inclination to speak, and for weeks I never hear the sound of my own voice. Incidentally, that's why I made the heroic decision not to have my little Mimi [the cat] brought here. The little creature is accustomed to cheerfulness and liveliness, she likes it when I sing and laugh, and play tag with her all over the house, she would definitely get down in the dumps here. That's why I have left her in the care of Mathilde [Jacob]. Mathilde is coming to visit me in a few days, and I hope then to get my spirits back up. Perhaps for me, too, Whitsuntide will be "the sweet and lovely holiday."
Sonyichka, just for me, be cheerful and calm. Everything will still turn out well, believe me. Greetings to Karl with all my heart. I send you many hugs. Many thanks for the lovely little picture. Your R
To Franz Mehring
[Breslau. Spetember 8, 1917]
With one eye laughing and the other eye weeping I am also following the inexhaustible outpourings of Kautsky's pen. He never grows tired of continuing to calmly spin out one elaborate "topic" after another with the patience of a spider, breaking everything down neatly into short sections with subheads, all of which are given "historical" treatment, that is, beginning with the mists of primordial time and coming right down to the present. But when it comes to the main thing, he still doesn't know what he thinks he knows. I keep thinking of Fritz Adler, who on his last visit to Berlin told me he agreed completely with Junius.(704) In reply to my interjection, "But I thought you held the same position as Kautsky?" he said: "How could anyone do that? Even Kautsky doesn't hold the same position as Kautsky." Nevertheless, the Scheidemanns will soon make a martyr of him [Kautsky] and thereby allow his barren glory to shine freshly again.