This Surfeit Of Happiness
Things were going so well for the Russian poet Valery Bryusov. He was married and had achieved some degree of success and notoriety in his home country. He was starting to clash with the restrictive government policies of Nicholas II, but he was able to spend relaxing summers in Europe, where he developed a deep dislike of the future Estonian city of Revel. For the moment his depression seemed to have abated, as he writes in his diary of his search for something more in life beyond the physical, the real. As ever, he thought that he was the greatest master the world had ever known.
NB: Some of the dates below are approximate, and some of the entries are abridged.
May 12 1899
Let the twelfth notebook end with this, the notebook in which alone is concealed more happiness than in all the other eleven, with their dreams of childhood and youth. Yes, indeed, this cycle of my life has given me too much happiness and success! Speaking generally, I have succeeded in almost everything that I began, have accomplished a great deal of what I had expected these long, cold years.
And another positive thing: all of this since Eda and I have been together. It will be two years since I last felt those mad, boundless attacks of depression which cut me off from life, which kept me from writing anything at all in this diary. Sanguine feelings, assurance, hopes – this is now my usual frame of mind. I have faith, I am at peace.
Success with examinations. It was a dangerous game I resolved to play. At the beginning, I was far from prepared and might well have failed. I risked a great deal, because for me to fail would have been very shameful. Everyone, everyone who knows me and who understood what was happening, as well as those who did not understand, would have regarded it as my fall.
Autumn has begun for me. we’ve returned to Moscow, to books, to studies and only in memory there will unexpectedly flash gorges, foaming waves and wild goats.
Went to the city hall about military service. Lately I’ve gotten so used to the idea of barracks that I almost yearned for them. But they judged me “completely unfit.” This might also qualify as a success, one of the successes of 1898-1899.
Merezhkovsky is writing on Tolstoy and Doestoevsky. I don’t see why he bothers. Everything that he could say about them has already been said. (Footnote: I was mistaken. 1901)
In general, a peaceful existence with my wife and my sister, a rhythm of occupations… “I rule my days, with order my mind is in harmony…” For now, I like it.
Not long ago we arranged a littel jaunt outside the city. Baltrushaitis, Polyakob, Anna Shesterkina and I. We went all around Sokolni Park walking in the snow. I pressed Anna’s little fingers and she favorably responded. If I had even a little of my former urges, my former soul, akin to the great Spanish seducer, I could continue. But I’m bored.
Have just read Resurrection. Good, without any doubt. It is a summation of everything that Tolstoy has said at one time or another, his last will and testament. The beginning is better written. Towards the end he broke down under the weight of the material. There are some small contradictions (to say nothing of anachronisms, such as treating “Decadence” and the Tonkin expedition as simultaneous with Notes of the Fatherland).
Bunin and Pertsov are in Moscow. Have seen Bunin three times or so. He is much deeper than he seems. Some of his thoughts on humanity, on the ancient Egyptians, on contemporary vulgarity and the shameful state of our science and learning – are even powerful and impressive.
Somebody named Lev Amozov arranged an evening of new art at the Sportsman’s Club. He came and invited me to appear. But everything of my own that I wanted to read was forbidden by the special censor. So I recited something by Balmont. The hall was full, and most of my crowd was there (even without my invitation). When I came to the platform, they applauded. I recited “The Wilderness,” with rather lukewarm response, but “I Love You Bitterly, O Poor Deformed Ones” seemed to make an impression. As an encoure I recited, “Oh, Yes I Am Chosen, Wise, Consecrated.” However, to tell the truth, the program was a poor one.
I saw Nikolai Fyodorov, the great teacher of life and rambunctious elder, from whose tongue both Vladimir Solovyov and Tolstoy have suffered. From the very start of the conversation, I was taken with him. “One way or another, we all have to die,” I said. “And did you take the trouble to reflect whether this is so?” he asked.
We talked about Nietzsche, and generally Fyodorov was hard on me. I enjoyed it very much, and when leaving (I was in a hurry), I thanked him. However, Yury Bartenev imagined that I was offended and send me an apologetic letter. I finished the evening at Baltrushaitis’, where I deliberately provoked the girls with my paradoxes.
Revel is in north Naples, eine Welstadt, as Bartenev said. The Revel Germans dote on their city. For them there can be no better. Unquestionably, Revel is a European city. It is self-sufficent, having in itself everything it needs. It could go on existing if the whole world fell apart.
We stayed in Revel two months. The first half of the time we lived alone, knowing no one, living quietly like Germans. In the mornings I translated the Aeneid, after dinner we read, sitting in the park, and in the evenings I worked on my autobiography, and that is how it went, day after day.
Right away, and more strongly than I expected, I was seized by the usual Moscow impressions, the whole circle of friends. Lang (who is now staying in our house) presented himself first. Then soon, very soon (by chance), came Polyakov, Baltrushaitis and Balmont himself.
Vladimir Solovyov is dead. Bartenev knew him well, and I went to the funeral with him. Thus, as fate would have it, I met the critic of my first poems. And I had dreamed – often, at that – of personal conversations. “But he would have charmed you,” Bartenev said to me. I kissed the hand of my chance enemy, the poet and thinker whom I revered. Bartenev proposed that I write an article on the poetry of Vladimir Solovyov.
Am assiduously attending spiritualist Wednesday meetings. I preach, teach and wield a certain influence. Once, when we were coming out of such a meeting, the neophytes began to thank me. “Since you’ve been coming a great deal has changed. Before, it was just Christian propaganda. For hours on end they kept telling us what the fluid is when it separates from the body. But now they are afraid of you.”
I dreamed last night of an end for Brothers Karamazov.
It was Saturday, I think, when we saw Gorky at the Grand Moscow Hotel. As always he was in a peasant shirt. A peasant-style moustache. Half-deliberate coarseness of speech. We dined together. “But I won’t go into the main dining room, they’ll gape. We drown in our own fame, like frogs in a swamp.” Later he said, “Time to spoil my reputation! I’m tired of it!” And: “Only let’s have no talk of social issues!”
He clasped my hand very hard and asked me to send him my book.
Later, under the cover of the general conversation, Gorky and I had a separate chat. “What’s disgusting is these various human inventions, starting with the pavements and ending with the idea of God. Of course, I, as a sinful man, walk the streets and sometimes pray to the Lord God, but that’s all wrong.”
“Lifted Up (1985)” – Passion Pit (mp3)
“Where The Sky Hangs” – Passion Pit (mp3)