Sunday, May 04, 2014

Love, in love . . .

Anna Akhmatova
Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

In his column "Love Story" (NYT) of May 1, 2014, David Brooks writes of Isaiah Berlin's encounter with Anna Akhmatova:
[I]n Leningrad in 1945[,] . . . . [Isaiah] Berlin was hanging out when a friend asked if he'd like to go visit Anna Akhmatova. Not knowing much about her, Berlin said yes . . . . Berlin was taken to her apartment and met a woman [twenty years older than he was, though] still beautiful and powerful, but wounded by tyranny and the war. At first, their conversation was restrained. They talked about war experiences and British universities . . . . By midnight, they were alone, sitting on opposite ends of her room. She told him about her girlhood and marriage and her husband's execution. She began to recite Byron's "Don Juan" with such passion that Berlin turned his face to the window to hide his emotions. She began reciting some of her own poems . . . . By 4 in the morning, they were talking about the greats. They agreed about Pushkin and Chekhov. Berlin liked the light intelligence of Turgenev, while Akhmatova preferred the dark intensity of Dostoyevsky[, and] . . . . [d]eeper and deeper they talked, baring their souls. Akhmatova confessed her loneliness, expressed her passions, spoke about literature and art. Berlin . . . [needed] to go to the bathroom but didn't dare break the spell. They had read all the same things, knew what the other knew, understood each other's longings. That night, . . . Berlin's life "came as close as it ever did to the still perfection of art." He finally pulled himself away and returned to his hotel. It was 11 a.m. He flung himself on the bed and exclaimed, "I am in love; I am in love."
What more can one say?

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