Deeper and Higher
DNA’S FATHER THOUGHT HIGHLY of Ludwig, impressed, as always, by the accomplished and the esteemed, and much preferred him to Scott. “We speak of you pretty constantly,” she had written in her year-opening letter. Having read The Permanent Horizon, Guy Manley, “shaking his head over the wisdom” he had found in it, had decided to make a belated Christmas gift of it to his friends,1 as Ludwig first learned in a telegram from him on New Year’s Day. Ludwig, of course, was flattered by the gesture, and happy to have an ally should he wish to pursue Edna with more seriousness. Nor was Guy Manley without a similar motive. If he had unsuccessfully matched his daughter in her second marriage, he was determined not to err again. “Your telegram was an act of the most exquisite kindness and is affixed to my private copy of the book,” Ludwig informed his would-be supporter. “It moved me deeply, I shall not forget it. Such messages … are the rare confirmations that show a man like me what he has been living and working for. And don’t think he doesn’t need it.”2
In this three-way courtship, Scott was proving to be the odd man out. Visiting Edna several times in November, he realized that Manley was opposed to the resumption of their relationship and to the plans they were making. In an uncharacteristically forceful and angry letter, Scott wrote Edna on November 30, 1938, that he would never again come to Rochester. “I recognize your father and mother as enemies of myself and of the things which you and I value—and I no longer feel called upon to pretend unawareness.” He insisted that she be honest with her parents. “Do not, please, say that we found a way of ‘taking care of sex’” in the days before her illness. “You gave me more days and nights and weeks and months of happiness than any woman has ever given any man. And I know that they were the same to you,” he insisted. Certainly he would hold nothing back in the letter he planned to send them in an attempt “to explain the exact nature of our love, past, present, and future.” All reason for pretense had been stripped away by her father’s stance against him. “I will no longer pretend to respect that for which I have no respect.… All the lying things which your good respectable family represents look kind of dirty to me…. Your father would prefer to have you marry a 6-foot cretin rather than the man you happen to love. In other words he would willingly condemn you to a life of boredom and vile impurity.”3
Not yet well enough to travel or to care for herself, and muddled over the unexpected attraction she and Ludwig had felt for one another, Edna had cautioned Scott to be patient during her final weeks of recovery. He remained, of course, unaware of her extreme confusion in what he described that Christmas as “your beautiful passionate love letter.” Its appearance had brought “intense joy and desire and sorrow and excitement and vindication.” Like Ludwig, who had been content to “read and reread” her only letter while on the road, Scott had “read it often. Oh how terribly I need the fullness of you—the answer, the release, the renewal—of you.… I could never actually desire any other woman. Everything—even the most elemental lust, the darkest and most animal lust, that lust that has its origin in the imponderable center of the living atom—in me finds a center only in you.” Without describing the erotic dreams that had accompanied earlier letters from him, he spoke in terms of the permanence that existed between them, hoping to arouse in Edna what she had in him. “You want your man. I want my woman. I want to possess her. Satisfy myself in her. Satisfy myself against her. Satisfy her with myself.” But above all, he told her, “I want to protect her,” as much as he wanted “peace, and passion, and pleasure, and rest.”4
Two days later, Edna received Scott’s promise to visit Rochester after her parents had left for Florida at the end of January. Before then, he would write to her father, not to win his approval,5 but “to correct that socially requisite lie.” He wished to leave no ambiguities in Guy Manley’s thoughts about his daughter’s life before illness had separated her from her lover.
From the very first moment when Edna and I looked at each other and spoke together in the fall of 1934, we loved each other. Now since love happens to be, despite popular opinion, an extremely rare phenomenon, the word requires some definition. To Edna and me there did not exist any “Spiritual” “mental” “physical” cubicles. We did not offer ourselves by subdivision. To touch with words, to touch with thoughts, to touch with eyes, to touch with bodies—was to us all part of the same colossal ecstasy and beauty and unbroken purity. We would have felt terribly unclean had we drawn boundary lines of caution and social obeisance around ourselves. In love, all the elements of life fuse into a single state of being where the most ordinary moments are like great music.
Scott hastened to assure him that “all this was no weekend infatuation.… So, you see, when Edna and I are together again we will not be launching forth on any novel experiment.”6 The day after receiving this frank letter, Manley sent his New Year’s Day telegram to Ludwig, while Edna wrote only to Ludwig, that “other soul that was mine.”7
Ludwig had returned home from Texas earlier than he might otherwise have, passing up an invitation to speak in Tucson in order to prepare mentally for his visit, with Thelma, to Charleston, “of all places.” After so many years, he was to go southward to the city that still “opens old old wounds, scarred wounds to be sure. But from time to time they still throb and even bleed,” he confided to Edna on January 7. Thelma would accompany him, even if “my life is complicated in a thousand ways.”8
Edna fully understood this oblique reference. “Marriage is an inner grace or nothing,” Ludwig would remind her during his travels, something she herself knew well, still bound as she was to a second husband “merely [by] legal foulness.” They were both victims “of the stupid stealthy corruption of our superficial social set up.” Theirs was a society that not only kept them bound in unhappy marriages, but separated by false propriety from those to whom they felt closest. “The deepest of all truths concerning the personal lives of men and women … depends not upon the objective action but upon the moral quality of him who performs the action.” He promised to come to Rochester, somehow. “I have friends who tug at my heart and who bring me comfort,” he wrote Edna as he traveled back home with Thelma to Charleston, promising his new soul mate that he would carry her “image and story with me in my heart.”9
Ludwig’s three-day visit to Charleston had come at the invitation of the South Carolina Poetry Society, before whom he would speak on “The Spirit of America and Its Literature.” William Bennett, now an elderly Charlestonian of letters whose support decades earlier had helped send Ludwig on his way into the outside world, wrote his son days later that Ludwig had given “the best critical address the Society has had for years; perhaps the best ever given; for Lewisohn, through many chameleon transformations, has grown into superior criticism and masterly use and respect for the English language”—a level of approbation unthinkable nearly four decades earlier when he had been refused the English position at Porter Military Academy. Bennett, however, disagreed over the merits of those newer writers praised by Ludwig—particularly Archibald MacLeish and Stephen Vincent Benét, the two about whom he had just written in his postscript for Cerf’s new edition of Expression in America.10
At the conclusion of his well-received talk in Charleston’s colonialera Dock Street Theatre, Ludwig and Thelma were carried off to a dinner given in his honor by Harrison Randolph. Tom Tobias later related how Thelma had forced herself into the center of things, making everyone uncomfortable, Ludwig included, until the group agreed to hear her sing.11 The following day, Ludwig, at Randolph’s request, spoke to the college’s “students at chapel.”12 Filling the hall with enthusiastic listeners, he delivered an address similar to that of the previous evening. The college newspaper later reported, “The true spirit of literature and the arts returned to the college for a brief interlude Tuesday morning, when Dr. Ludwig Lewisohn carried students to heights which they will perhaps never again attain…. Discussing the death of culture and its mainstays, freedom, faith, morality, religion, and love of man, Dr. Lewisohn fascinated his hearers with his unending flow of magical prose which amounted almost to blank verse.”13
Lancelot Harris was so moved by Ludwig’s talk that he wrote his former student, Richard Haymaker of Wagner College, relating the events of those few days. Haymaker seconded Harris’s response by telling of a visit that Ludwig had made some weeks earlier to his college, speaking “spontaneously and brilliantly on a whole range of topics, as if his comments had been prepared, as if he were merely in conversation.” If only Ludwig “had stayed in criticism instead of writing so much about himself in fictional form!” Haymaker had found “only one character” in the novels he had read, a character not without flaw. “I rather suspect that there is at least a touch of the four-flusher in that character.” Though the lecture had been “thrilling” and the lecturer “interesting” and likable as a person, Haymaker felt compelled to suggest that Ludwig’s “Jewish sensibilities” may have been the cause of his shortcomings. A half century later, Haymaker would remember Ludwig as “one of the finest speakers I ever heard,” powerful, distinct, and without an accent, if not the most respectable fellow.14
Ludwig himself was not unaware of the role he still played in the life of Charleston’s more cultured circle. Yet it had been a good trip, even with Thelma’s brief lapse into more familiar behavior. On the whole, however, they had profited from new surroundings, a respite from the tensions of a dying relationship. On January 27, he wrote Edna as promised. “Thelma had never seen Charleston and I took her with me. The people there made a fuss over us; I’m Charleston’s pet Jew, you know, and that, joined to the exquisite beauty of the city and climate made a few days for us such as we hadn’t known in years. When Thelma is away from home and can shed, so to speak, her conflicts, she’s a different person. A new environment and new and agreeable people brighten and soften her and she becomes again the girl of our early years. Unluckily, one can’t spend life irresponsibly gypseying.”15
After leaving Charleston, they paid a brief visit to Savannah, Georgia, where Ludwig lectured before returning home.16 Jim was happy to see his parents. Thelma may have been similarly pleased to see him, but mentioned in a note to Leonard only that he was developing well, perhaps more noticeable to her because of her absence. “Our little son James Elias is growing up and we think he may become a poet!”17 She would prove accurate in her prediction, though his talent would one day be used to exorcise the psychic demons that were already beginning to exact their terrible tribute.
Ludwig was perhaps more eager to see Jim than was Thelma, yet he could spend but a scattering of brief moments with him between engagements. The young poet was already showing signs of having inherited his father’s literary temperament and gift, about which Ludwig must have felt a sense of pride and fulfillment, without much awareness of the difficulties such an inheritance might hold as he grew to manhood. Wanting to spend these short interludes with his son, Ludwig stole but a few seconds to sketch a future book of European literary criticism. If he had previously disavowed the subject’s importance to him on several occasions, he appears to have become reengaged by his work for Cerf and the lectures that followed. The Magic Word was to include his thoughts on Homer, Moses, Shakespeare, Goethe, and the moderns—Joyce, Proust, and Mann.18 Eleven years later, a more modest study under the same title would appear as his final word on the topic.
Though he was lecturing “for chicken feed,”19 economic necessity and ethnic obligation drove him onward. “Still wandering, speaking now and then on literature, but mainly raising money for our stricken people,” he wrote Edna on January 23. When would the road end? How much longer before he could break away for some creative time? “Rather tired and hollowed out, as it were, by all these minds and needs tugging at me and hoping—if conscience and circumstance permit—to make an escape soon into the free and timeless world of art.” For the moment, he could only anticipate such an escape, of which, he told Edna, “you are becoming a symbol to me.”20
Exhaustion and frustration were increasingly evident when he wrote Edna four days later. At some length, he spoke of his disappointment with the response to his fiction. For Ever Wilt Thou Love, still unpublished, was circulating in manuscript among friends and publishers. Though it was well received by those under forty, his own generation had found it less acceptable. There was, he told Edna, “Some bitterish and evidently inner objection to it.” Most of his old colleagues, even those of a similar Jewish orientation like Sholem Asch and Maurice Samuel, were now either avoiding him or harshly criticizing his efforts. “What kind of a person am I?” he worried. “The only friends around here now who seem to have any understanding or can give me anything are a few young women. That isn’t normal.”21
Returning from this latest trip, Ludwig was suddenly struck with “a wretched spell of sciatica,” forcing him to bed for the next two weeks. Whether the result of tension or physical stress, the break allowed him to make copious “notes for the next novel” and to “read a lot of 18th century French stuff that I need for it.”22 First mentioned in his notebook in June 1938, Renegade would not appear until 1942.23 Unlike a number of previous efforts, he was determined not to hurry this one along. The vastly greater time spent in research, conception, and execution would ultimately reward him with one of his finest novels.
Sustaining Ludwig throughout this period of convalescence was Edna’s “beautiful and heartening” letter of February 1, providing him with “hours upon hours of lift and light.” Unaware that her note had been written out of the ambivalence that had followed Scott’s visit the previous week,24 Ludwig felt encouraged by news of her continuing recovery and urged her to “keep on being better and better and stronger and stronger.” She was, he told her, one of that small number of “brave souls” so essential to the world—and to his own spiritual survival. “You’re so badly needed. I mean that very profoundly. Brave souls are so few. Vision is so rare. If you but knew! So few, so rare…. I cling to the thought of you.” Though he would not have minded “a small financial killing with a book” in order to “shed a burden or two” (his books, in fact, were still selling well in Scandinavia and among the English, “some small group in London [having] suddenly discovered Trumpet of Jubilee”), there was no “moral satisfaction” to be found here. He had sought “human relationships: friendship, love.” Nothing else, he insisted, “makes a hell of a lot of difference.… I get no real good from anything else,” he offered in answer to the “great fiery tragic letter” in which she had spoken of her confusion over the demands being made upon her. Ludwig advised that she listen only to the answers of her own heart, and not to the dictates of a crushing order that cared not at all for the individual, the very issue over which so much of his own blood had been spilt in the courts and on the written page.
How profoundly I recognized the fact that your outer difficulties had nothing to do with you but were of the stupid and wicked world’s making. The world is stupid, the world is wicked. Do you read German at all? Did you ever read Heine’s line: Die Welt ist dumm, die Welt ist schlecht. [The world is stupid, the world is bad.] That’s the last word. And with its clumsy sordid bungling claws that world wrenches awry things delicate tender exquisite … until they are no longer what they were or were meant to be and no longer represent us. The world, society, corrupts, corrodes…. Only the individual matters, only the soul.… They should leave us alone.
“Now you’ll call me middle-aged and cynical,” he warned them both. “I must stop. This is an ugly letter. Yet there’s a final truth in it.”25
“Deeper and higher!” he exclaimed a week later in his notebook,26 midway through his “last long tour of the season.” Each night, alone in his hotel room, his thoughts would come to rest upon the “beastly” situation at home, until one day he wrote Edna, promising that “by hook or crook, sometime this spring I’ll manage to be in your neighborhood and call on you, if by then you still want me.”27 But Ludwig’s ambivalence was no less troubling to him than was Edna’s to her. A “long novel of contemporary Jewish Life in America,” to be titled The Flowering of the World, sketched in his notebook while on the road, once again reflected his personal dilemma. “Marries again out of loneliness and knows he won’t like it,” he wrote of the “writer” protagonist whose “cause (anti-Fascism) is not grasped.” “Choose women who will give him children,” but “Glad when his wife died.” Thelma’s absence was not an upsetting thought, but who should the new woman in his life be from among those he listed as possibilities? “Louise—Cecile—Pearl—Edna. Edna?” The book was to portray “the moment between two eternities,” but “Nothing bites,” he added in frustration.28
For all his musings, he had yet to find a clear vision of how his personal life would be resolved. Instead, he turned to his first literary love—poetry. Each new relationship had in the past broken the dam—once again, verse was beginning to flow. On February 18, 1939, in the excited state witnessed in his notebook, he struck out at those who preached compromise with the fascists. Taking a phrase from Isaiah, he wrote “There Is No Peace,” publishing it two months later in Opinion. A pacifist no longer, he heralded the battle that would be fought if good was not to become a slave to evil.
… Break forth, O storm of battle!
They are exterminating the wise, the kind, the gifted, the gentle, the good,
As though they were rats of the sewer who carry a foul disease—
Who can endure it?…
There is no peace with the wicked, the prophet said…
We must defy them this day or else go down
For ages and ages and ages, shamed, dusty, dark, uncomforted,
In guise of slave and craven. Nay, worse: in guise of clown.29
If others, whether naively or self-servingly, were now attempting all manner of accommodation, Ludwig knew that not peace but death and guilt were certain to follow such a course.
For Ever Wilt Thou Love appeared in March to widely disparate reviews. Characterized by the New Yorker30 as “unrealistic,” and by the Saturday Review as filled with “wooden characters talking an artificial dialogue,”31 the New York Times reviewer nevertheless found it “a tender and passionate love story, reminiscent of the French pattern in theme, yet typically American in its scene…. A gem of a love story. It provides not only good reading but ground for endless discussion on the theory of love and marriage.”32 On such issues the New York Herald Tribune added, “Ironically, he talks often more sense than any one else.”33
Such disparity was not unexpected by Ludwig, who had anticipated a repetition of the negative response his several recent novels had received. As he told Spiro in late March, it was a reaction that “illustrates much of American life.”34 Curiously, the review from Charleston had been quite favorable, though he wondered if he might not still have been benefiting from his recent visit there. A “handful” of readers writing these reviews “saw and felt and were touched by the flame.… But the larger part of the reviews have been of an inconceivable vulgarity of spirit,” beyond even what he had come to expect, he assured Edna on April 2. Here were “people who separate the senses from the heart, who, being impotent of spirit too, degrade the senses … envious elderly men whose reviews reviled all that they were no more or perhaps had never been capable of.” But for “two notable exceptions, all kind and understanding words [were] from women … those modern American girls and women now between thirty and forty without whom the artist in this country would utterly despair.” More than three decades after the publication of The Broken Snare, he still struggled against those repressive forces in American culture which, in denying the flesh, would desecrate the spirit. Edna’s own struggle in some ways had matched that of his early protagonist; she herself had found the parallel between her life and the central theme of For Ever. Ludwig knew this, and saw in her the soul mate he needed, and upon whom he could unburden his heart. “So few ears that hear me—that hear the voice from within.”35
Out but a few weeks, For Ever was already proving to be a financial failure. The reason, Ludwig felt certain, was not only the critical assault it had sustained. “I’m a casualty of Golus,” of the Diaspora, he wrote Wise on April 1. “Our Jews, many of whom are fond of me, are not book-minded; the Gentiles ‘repress’ me, both the buyers of books and the hirers of lecturers.” Despite all efforts by his new publisher to promote the book, its fate appeared sealed. “An iron wall has grown up between me and all normal opportunities,” an obstacle that Mary’s “black-mail operation [had] completed” some years before.36
A year later, Edna would recount how Ludwig, profoundly disappointed, had “made a gesture of walking out on everything” and that “nothing could be done by anyone to stop him”—but that time itself had worked its curative properties.37 Such total and irreversible abandonment of the artistic fray was truly impossible for Ludwig, no matter the degree of personal anguish, and even more so at this moment, given the role he had chosen to play in history. “Let me say to you (if silly talk of silly people floats to you),” he told Wise as the negative reviews began to appear, “that it is not to the discredit of the human spirit that life and art go on during periods of bleakest tragedy and that to have captured (or honestly tried) some part of the music of life within significant form is on strictly moral grounds a positive action.”38
The first tentative steps back were evident by April 1. In response to Wise’s renewed insistence that he attend to his financial obligations,39 Ludwig spoke of his continuing hope that his Jewish antiques would find a buyer. “I wanted to do two things: to pay this debt of honor … and to see Palestine once more in order, whether it sold or not, to be able to write that final Jewish epic Star-Son, which might be remembered in death even though I am neglected in life.”40
On April 5 he began to sketch “Seven Episodes” of medieval Jewish life in his notebook,41 but the fact of his loss of public favor and dismissal by American literary critics continued to plague him and to interfere with his progress on this latest project. Ultimately, the delay would be to his advantage, but for the moment this seemingly universal abandonment troubled him deeply. By “a son-of-a-bitch’s trick, attributable only to the most brutal malice,” the new Oxford Book of American Writers did not make reference to any of his writings.
But in truth, as he readily admitted to himself and a few close friends, he was an alien, holding to beliefs now out of fashion. He was “other” in temperament, in style, in approach—in the very goal he had set for himself and the ideas that had propelled him toward it. And not merely because of his focus upon questions that little concerned his critics and those others who no longer read him. Quite clearly, he belonged to a world beyond theirs. In the company of Edmund Wilson and his coterie one evening, Ludwig found the atmosphere still
cold, sad, blank. We came home. Thelma had one of her sudden flashes of insight. Her eyes were full of tears. She said: “They have no inkling of what you are.”… They don’t read me…. They read Hemingway, every story…. They feel me as subtly alien…. Neither my substance nor my form call to them. I don’t mean that they’re anti-Semitic in the grosser sense. But all their Jewish friends and all the Jewish writers they know are mimics…. But even For Ever (as several reviewers said, though beautifully written in English) seems French in technique and feeling to them. A gross and stupid error, of course. But one which I understand psychologically. By the short-cut word “French” in this connection they were trying to say: not within the dominant mood of American life and feeling and letters.
Ludwig was, of course, willing to give his critics their due, however limited the credit they could assume for themselves was. Astute observation was unnecessary for them to see just how “other” he was. “They’re right. After all, they’re right,” he confessed to Spiro. But did they truly understand why he was so “subtly alien,” what it was in his background, beyond his Jewishness, that separated their two worlds? He had little doubt of their total bemusement. “They are not very superior people—the critics; they don’t stand even a little above or aside from their age. They share all its specific tasks and are immersed in all its pet illusions. They have no eyes fixed on history.” One need only “regard the men and books which are predominantly loved and read” to see this. “They want the thousand homely details,” while he sought “an essential fire … almost of the naked symbol, of high compression (cf. This People, especially Bolshevik). I want to put the eternal symbols of human lives into a few pages.” No longer at war with himself, he seemed to relish being outside the circle he had once fought so hard to reshape, content to be a part of something larger, something other. “So both my substance and my form (inseparable, of course) make me seem aloof. I think that is a good word. For I notice that when I am in the company of American writers I feel aloof; I feel as though I were living in a slightly other world of aims and values as an American writer, as a writer, as an artist, quite aside from the Jewish angle. That feeling, my own feeling of otherwhereness, is very significant.”
Yet, ultimately, Ludwig knew that nothing in his life was “quite aside from the Jewish angle.” For all that he still wished to see other forces at work—popular taste, artistic preference, and the like—he fully understood that at its core, his decline into popular and critical disregard was ethnically based. “It is my Jewish fate,” he finally admitted to Spiro at the end of his analysis,42 much as he had to Wise several days before. Certainly, those toward whom he had felt “aloof” had not failed to recognize this element in him and in his work, as Saxe Cummins would remind him two days later. Angry that he was being ignored by journals that otherwise paid good money to “third-rate” critics, Ludwig had written Cummins for help.43 “I need not tell you that I was deeply moved by your letter,” Cummins responded. “A feeling of outrage for the manner in which it was ignored” only deepened “when you became the defender of our own people … [bringing] all your gifts into the battle in their behalf. For that I was even prouder of you.” But such pride was not shared by “the owners of our so-called magazines of opinion.”44 A generation had passed since the battles spoken of in Up Stream had been fought, but few doors had opened in the literary establishment for Jews who were not “mimics.”
Throughout the spring of 1939, financial problems continued to seize much of Ludwig’s attention. On April 27, a month after first appealing to Ludwig to at least assume his responsibility toward Mary, Wise told Bernard Rosenblatt that Ludwig was now earning one hundred dollars a month as a columnist for the New Palestine and one hundred dollars each week he lectured. Unable to continue his own payments to her, and without any sign of Ludwig’s debt repayment, Wise insisted that a buyer be found for the collection of Jewish antiques.45 Wise had asked Morris Margulies, another Zionist official, to check on Ludwig’s income from various Zionist-related activities. Receiving Margulies’s report that Ludwig had earned over four thousand dollars since September 1938, Wise included a copy of it with his letter to Rosenblatt,46 who demanded that Ludwig either be made to pay or to surrender the antiques.47 Ludwig, now a member of the ZOA executive board, felt the pressure from his colleagues more than if he had retained his independent status. For Ever was scheduled for publication in England, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, a combined source of “naches” (pride) and, possibly, of some income. A new translation assignment, scheduled for completion that summer, would provide additional funds, as would, at some future date, “a story of my own. I may be unpopular and poor,” he wrote Spiro in mid-May, “but I’ll try to do the creative work I was meant to do as long as God gives me the strength.”48 On May 21 Ludwig met with Wise to discuss these matters, finding himself “touched by his attitude, seeing that he is obviously what he is.”49
By then, these financial difficulties had become further complicated by the unexpected news of Edna’s plan to return to Scott. Ludwig was devastated, unaware that the relationship between the two lovers had been rekindled so many weeks earlier. Parental pressure had failed to discourage what the body and the spirit had long craved. As early as January 15, there is indication in Edna’s diary that her interest in Ludwig had become more literary than carnal—that she perceived his true love to be on the page before him, while hers lay in the flesh. “Ludwig Lewisohn has a great love affair with each word that he speaks. He touches it, feels, understands, knows joy and ecstasy with it, drinks the juice from it, leaves it moved and changed and newly alive.”50 On March 1 she placed Ludwig in her diary among those other “great men,” like Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill, who “all rediscover the same truth … [about] the individual in society, the importance of his place,”51 but did not speak of herself beside him as her lover. He was for her the one from whom she could learn the most as she traveled her own path. But she could not tie herself to him, nor even to Scott, whose demands were less consuming. Instead, she wished only to die without notice, beholden to no one, having given the gift of herself to the world she would leave behind. Romantic, certainly, but to her credit, Edna remained true to her course, though because of this determination she could not help but leave mourners when she died. “When I am dead I want to have something within me to give back to the Earth which gave me life … something in me that can’t be put in a box.”52
It was this very search for an unburdened spirit that had attracted Ludwig to her, and had left him so distraught when she appeared to be leaving his world. For all of his seeming independence of will, he needed the confirmation of others, while Edna, in her newly felt rebirth, cared only that she live unfettered, the spirit within her leading the way throughout the briefest moment that was hers alone to live. In concluding the diary of her last months of convalescence, she penned a poem, “Life and Death of the First Spring Flower,” and placed it on the first of its many pages, tied together with a flourish of blue silk ribbon, as if to give shape to this new blossoming.
Bewildered thing you
Giddy and blinking with the light
Wobbling your head
Like a daft thing
The first time up all night.
Didn’t think you could
Do it, did you?
Didn’t think you’d make it, at all
Proud and a little surprised
At yourself. Had no idea you’d be so
Oh shy, tremulous new thing
You breathe. You smile a little
You nod. You sigh.
How could Edna have turned away from Scott when in mid-February he had begun to write again, and then visited with her in Rochester? How could Ludwig, so mired in the affairs of his entangling world, have competed with Scott’s promise of a new beginning filled with the memories of those past ecstasies? Pulling himself together, Ludwig wrote Edna on May 9. “I knew it was this way and dared not let myself know. The thing shatters … I stand amid the fragments … the inner man in a whirl.”54 Recovering his still weakened composure the following day, he told her of the comfort he would find in memories he could not lose. “I think my quite final conclusion will always be this: I am grateful to the dark gods that you are and that we were permitted to meet.”55
Three days later, while waiting in a Chicago hotel room for his dinner date and occasional lover, he could think only of Edna. “I see you before me both exquisite and magnificent,” he wrote her. And though he would try “to be all to [Cecile] that I can be,” it would be Edna’s “image” that would fill his thoughts. The guilt he felt would have to be endured. “What could I do?” he asked. “It is a kind of lyric madness that I have lived to see it at all.” Should he now, after so much pain, “like Oedipus, put out my eyes?” “Don’t forget me,” he pleaded with her. “I need to have you remember me.”56