Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I am rereading an old favourite.
You see, I met, at a party this last Saturday, a woman I shall refer to as M--. a lovely woman, indeed, and we got to chatting. In time, I learned that she was an English grad, too, and so we got to talking about what we're reading, and what we've loved of late, and what we'd recommend, one to another.
M-- was quite surprised that I knew whereof she spoke, when she told me that she works in Wymilwood (I didn't tell her that I've always felt that the /y/ should be short). She seemed even more surprised that I know the geography of the campus wherein that building is located, given that I am not a graduate of that august institution. "Why," she asked, did I know this? So HE came up. And having explained that he's a source of abiding interest for me, we chatted about HIM for a space. M-- mentioned that she'd not read much of him, but that she's been impressed by his turns of phrase, his grace and elegance in his writing. So we talked about what I like of his, and why I'm so interested in his thought.
I recommended to her two of my favourite books. Volumes One and Two of The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932-1939, edited by Robert D. Denham.
One might have thought that this would be the end of that. That, since I've read these books an inordinate number of times, the only outcome of
this recommendation would be that, hopefully, M-- too would come to love these books. That I'd remember the conversation when I glance to the left, from my computer screen, and see a shelf and a half groaning under the weight of thick green tomes.
And yet.
Despite having many other things to read, I'm rereading these letters. I blame M--.
Why reread? Because these books are addictive.
Because, despite the fact that I feel discomfited by my seemingly voyeuristic role as I read these letters between two young lovers, I can't help but marvel. At the wonders of love, as found between two people so completely suited one to the other. At the scoldings, the advice, the longing to hear from the lover so cruelly held at distance. The joy of receiving the next letter, and the savouring of the reading of it. The attempts to slow down the reading; the pausing, the sheer comfort & joy derived from hearing from the other.
These letters almost form an epistolary novel. We read of Helen & Norrie's love for one another, of their despair at being apart, of their trials & tribulations, and of the thoughts that they can't but share with one another.
To read these letters is to share in the reflected joy of the happiness that the two feel because of one another. And so I am happy, indeed, to read these letters again, though. So, thank you, M--, for making me think of them again.
I do hope you enjoy reading them yourself.

from letter 13, NF to HK (July 1932)
I have judiciously weighed the question of whether or not I should "mind very much" your saying that you love me and have decided that I do not. I find the statement even agreeable. But you frighten me a little, you sweet child. "Love" may mean anything from a quiet friendship to an overwhelming passion. It may be anything from a purely sexual impulse to a declaration of honourable intentions based on a close survey of the economic field. In the sense that I like you better than anyone else of your sex, I love you. I love you in the sense that I would do anything for you. In the sense that no revelation of weakness in your character would diminish my respect for you. In the sense that I think of you a great deal, and always affectionately. And so on. But if I were to go into poetic ramifications of the subject, and tell you that you filled my days with sunshine and my nights with longing, I should be merely a liar, and you would be well advised to regard me as an insidious and designing villain. Don't you see, darling? I can't write you a sustained love letter, because when I try--and I have tried--the result sounds like a Chopin nocturne scored for brass. It acts like a tonic on me to hear you say that you love me, certainly. But it does make me rather nervous to be carrying such a warm and pulsating little heart around in my pockets. I'm afraid it might drop out and break.
- (1.53-54)

from letter 19, NF to HK (Summer 1932)
There are so surprisingly few things that really matter. Music matters, and babies matter--so do poetry, sunsets over marshes, plain food, and people's flea-bitten souls. But that's about all. So why bother about anything else? People who laugh at dreamers and star-gazers merely can't distinguish what's necessary from what's important. A wash-basin is necessary, but it isn't important and should be minimized. These practical-minded people are also necessary but not important, which is why they hate to feel slighted.
- (1.80)

from letter 88, HK to NF (20 August 1934)
I should like to kiss you good-night,--all I can do is love my little candle [by which HK was writing the letter], and it is fading out. So I shall think about you, and how much I love your face and your eyes and your hands and the way you talk. And next winter when I listen to a Mozart Quartet I shall remember how much you love it too. Because you and I have many things to do--my darling, I can't feel lonely when I have you. Even if you are in Stonepile and I am in a female gathering hearing tales of how seasick one can get.
I feel like talking to you for hours on end.
- (1.319)