Side by side, but not crowded, / A fire, but not smoky


The painter Leonid Pasternak was not sure how to react when his son wrote to Rainer Maria Rilke in April 1926, asking the elder poet to send an inscribed copy of one of his books, “perhaps the Duino Elegies”, to his “greatest and probably only friend”. “Her name is Marina Tsvetaeva”, Boris Pasternak explained, “and she lives in Paris, 19th arrondissement, 8 rue Rouvet”. He told Rilke that Tsvetaeva was “a born poet, a great talent . . . . who writes in a way that none of us in the USSR now writes”.

Leonid Pasternak, who had met Rilke in Moscow twenty-five years earlier, when his son and Tsvetaeva were just schoolchildren, persuaded himself that his anxieties about the propriety of the request were due to the excessive decorum of his generation and his own insufficient understanding of the ways of poets. “Perhaps among you poets it’s accepted to exchange books without being personally acquainted”, he concluded with paternal deference. For Rilke, Pasternak and Tsvetaeva, separated by geography, politics and domestic circumstances, the exchange of books was itself the source of the immediate and ecstatic sense of kinship – far over-running the bounds of conventional “personal acquaintanceship” – recorded in their correspondence of summer 1926.

more from the TLS here.