Excerpt

Letters to Vera

Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd, and Olga Voronina

November 4, 2015 
The following is from Letters to Vera, a collection of letters from Vladimir Nabokov to his wife. Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia and married Vera Slonim in 1925. In 1940, he became a refugee in the United States, where he wrote his most famous works: Bend Sinister, Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire. Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland in 1977.

[ALS, 2 PP.]
[13 August 1924]

[TO: Berlin]

[Prague?] 1
3–VII[I]–24

My delightful, my love, my life, I don’t understand anything: how can you not be with me? I’m so infinitely used to you that I now feel myself lost and empty: without you, my soul. You turn my life into something light, amazing, rainbowed—you put a glint of happiness on everything—always different: sometimes you can be smoky-pink, downy, sometimes dark, winged—and I don’t know when I love your eyes more—when they are open or shut. It’s eleven p.m. now: I’m trying with all the force of my soul to see you through space; my thoughts plead for a heavenly visa to Berlin via air . . . My sweet excitement . . .

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Today I can’t write about anything except my longing for you. I’m gloomy and fearful: silly thoughts are swarming—that you’ll stumble as you jump out of a carriage in the underground, or that someone will bump into you in the street . . . I don’t know how I’ll survive the week.

My tenderness, my happiness, what words can I write for you? How strange that although my life’s work is moving a pen over paper, I don’t know how to tell you how I love, how I desire you. Such agitation—and such divine peace: melting clouds immersed in sunshine—mounds of happiness. And I am floating with you, in you, aflame and melting—and a whole life with you is like the movement of clouds, their airy, quiet falls, their lightness and smoothness, and the heavenly variety of outline and tint—my inexplicable love. I cannot express these cirrus-cumulus sensations.

When you and I were at the cemetery last time, I felt it so piercingly and clearly: you know it all, you know what will happen after death—you know it absolutely simply and calmly—as a bird knows that, fluttering from a branch, it will fly and not fall down . . . And that’s why I am so happy with you, my lovely, my little one. And here’s more: you and I are so special; the miracles we know, no one knows, and no one loves the way we love.

What are you doing now? For some reason I think you’re in the study: you’ve got up, walked to the door, you are pulling the door wings together and pausing for a moment—waiting to see if they’ll move apart again. I’m tired, I’m terribly tired, good night, my joy. Tomorrow I’ll write you about all kinds of everyday things. My love.

V.

* * * *

[ALS, 4 PP.]
[postmarked 19 August 1925]

TO : 29, Neue Winterfeldtstr., Berlin—Schöneberg

[Zoppot]

My sweetheart, my love, my love, my love—do you know what—all the happiness of the world, the riches, power and adventures, all the promises of religions, all the enchantment of nature and even human fame are not worth your two letters. It was a night of horror, terrible anguish, when I imagined that your undelivered letter, stuck at some unknown post office, was being destroyed like a sick little stray dog . . . But today it arrived—and now it seems to me that in the mailbox where it was lying, in the sack where it was shaking, all the other letters absorbed, just by touching it, your unique charm and that that day all Germans received strange wonderful letters—letters that had gone mad because they had touched your handwriting. The thought that you exist is so divinely blissful in itself that it is ridiculous to talk about the everyday sadness of separation—a week’s, ten days’—what does it matter? since my whole life belongs to you. I wake at night and know that you are together with me,—I sense your sweet long legs, your neck through your hair, your trembling eyelashes—and then such happiness, such simmering bliss follows me in my dreams that I simply suffocate . . .

I love you, I love you, I can’t stand it any longer, imagination won’t replace you—come . . . I am perfectly healthy, feel magnificently well, come and we will swim—the waves here are like at home. We are planning to return on Sunday—but these last days I must spend with you, do you hear? And you know what: I think we had exactly the same illness. Even on the day before I left I’d been hurting all over inside— somehow sharp-edged—it hurt even to laugh—and then here the fever started. Now I feel wonderful. I am afraid that here at the hotel they thought that I had simply gone on a drinking binge. The weather is cool, but no rain. Shura doesn’t swim much, today I will write to S. A. Really I don’t know what to do next. Go to Bavaria, perhaps?

Will you come, my love? Why don’t you take off the day after tomorrow (21st)—we’ll spend two or three days here.The trip costs 12 marks, the room 11⁄2 marks (you can move in with me), lunches and dinners—barely anything.

My little kitten, my joy, how happily I love you today . . . I kiss you— but won’t say where, there are no words for that.

V.

 

From LETTERS TO VERA by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Brian Boyd and Olga Voronina. Used with permission of Knopf. Copyright © 2014 by The Estate of Vladimir Nabokov.


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