Chaldon, 13 October 1930
I meant to give you this today – anyhow it is obviously yours because your hands are so beautiful. But a mourning ring is not suitable to our state. However, the design is delicate and charming, and the curve and texture of the setting is lovely enough to remind me of you, but nothing is adequate. There is not anything that could speak to you for me.
This is not a letter. I am awaiting your word. I shall tell you nothing, except that I have not yet started to tell you how I love you.
This rose came from the front garden. A month seems an intolerably long time, but I shall spend it in devising pleasures for you. And you will come to taste them? The sun is coming in through the sitting room window and trying to put out the fire – but that legend is not true. I am not put out. And there is a blinding sun shining upon me. You will enjoy it, and be happy, my dear – and not forget me?
London, 14 October 1930
My dear love,
The ring is on my finger. I look at it, and remember seeing it on yours. And the rose is beside me, sitting a little self-consciously in a liqueur glass. It must have been the warmth of our love flowing out of the window that bloomed it, for I saw the bud a week ago, a small cross thing, and thought : you will never open before the winter.
You spoke with such determination, and I believe all your words, so implicitly that I did not expect anything, not even ‘This is not a letter’ this morning. So though I woke early I shut my eyes again, and imagined rather successfully, that you had come in and were looking at me.
[….] My hands are not beautiful, my dear. They were once, but now they are spoiled, like most of the rest of me. I say most; for by some strange mercy my sensitiveness has remained unbattered. I can give you that without self reproach or sighing.
[….] Last night I walked into the cottage and saw you sitting alone by the fire, and thinking about me. It will not be long before I come again, not all of a month. And it would take you much longer than a month, my darling, to finish devising pleasures for me. I know you, and how there is no end to your generosity and patient skill to please. I want no pleasure but to be with you, but I will take all you can give me and be grateful.
You can have no idea how many people there are in London. Yet so far I don’t seem to have seen anyone. They are there, and I talk to them, and answer their questions about my cottage, and they seem to hear my answers. But it is hard to believe in them. They are like the bleached shadows one opens one’s eyes to after looking at the sun with one’s eyes shut. My eyes have been a good deal shut lately, my sun, as you know. No wonder my vision is affected. […..] I thought of a ring, too. But you will not put it on till tomorrow, for there was a pearl to be replaced. Meanwhile, here is an ivory armoury for you to play with.
[….] Take care of yourself, I love you so desperately.
Chaldon, 15 October 1930
My most dear love,
How well you know me already. The armoury has occupied me for over an hour. I came donwstairs in my pyjamas and my dressing gown, duly lighted the fire, and sat at the table, selecting first one and then the next delight. [….] I have already selected the finest and sharpest as deadly weapons; to be used on your guests, with your consent, if they really outstay our tender patience. They will have the ineffable consolation of a delicious death. Your gloomy foresight is justified in me. I have had to spend many anxious and cross minutes in searching for the hiding holes which conceal various cereals and spices. I find that during all your careful tour of the storeroom, I was noting down as carefully each movement and form and shape of you. I can walk from larder to cupboard and shelf to shelf with you, even now remembering accurately the shape of your hands and the feel of your lovely shoulder.
But find the pepper I cannot. [….] I wonder, and I am afraid. What will happen when you realise how unlearned I am – and how I know nothing of wit and wisdom. How undeveloped my mind is and how slow. And when you are forced by proof to believe all this – lack of ability, cowardice, and all the rest. [….] I have nothing to give you which is worthy of you, except that my love is great. You must desire the pleasures I am devising for you. I think you will. You would not receive love so beautifully unless you enjoyed and desired it.
[….] My dear, you are not to buy me wine. You are not to buy me anything like that. You are not to spend more than three-halfpence a day (* letter postage at that date) and a certain amount of time. As much of that as you will; when it is not being put to its right use, which is the writing of poetry.
[….] My most loved one. I long for you so much that the weight on my heart is intolerable. Everything which gives me happiness here (and in this house each thing does delight me) and everything I see; small things to please me when I am walking, or shapely things, or rude and angry and strong things. Clouds especially, and trees. They all bring you to me – literally, as if you were led by the hand and my heart cries out because each time you go away unkissed.
When we meet. What will happen – probably no more than a kiss. But let it be soon.
London, 16 October 1930
My lovely, my dearest, my long lass, tomorrow is the next best day to today. [….] I cannot believe that I shall see you so soon, that you will lighten upon me. My darling, is it possible that we can be happier than ever? [….] Yesterday I went out to dinner and ate , I hang my head to confess it, boiled cod followed by roast mutton. [….] How can you love a woman who has eaten boiled cod?
[….] I could not answer your yesterday letter properly owing to the world being so much with me, and so I had no time to enquire into why you were abashed by Francis’s remarks about the publication of worse poetry than his or yours. Why were you abashed? For his bad manners, I hope, not for your good poems. Do you really think that I don’t know good from bad? [….] Your poetry, I say it again, is true and good, and beautifully and cleanly made. It has really got your quality, it is proud and violent and controlled. I was haunted by it long before I had opened my dull ungrateful senses to you, and I feel exactly about it now as I did then. I read it through and through again the other day, to see if love made any difference. It made none. And I cannot conceive a sharper test than that. With every achieved line I loved you better, but the poems still keep me at my distance, and it is the prerogative of good art to do that to the reader – to be haughty and arbitrary.
How did you make those snail shells smell of you so unmistakeably and excitingly? If you had sent me two of your shirts they could not have plagued me into trembling more. They lie on the table and I eye them every now and then, their defiant smooth colours, their polished slopes; and I shy away, and hear my heart hurry, and know that presently they will have their way with me, and I must pick them up and smell them again. And then what will the Bettys say of my complexion? ‘These women know, I suppose, how you should look.’ Oh, what scorn, fury, jealousy, in those words! You suppose, do you, my tyrant? And haven’t you some definite views as to how I should look, too? No, my lover, I must put those shells away presently. They are more ruthless than you, for I can do nothing to them in return. And if I feel like this now, how shall I live out the muffle of time still between us? Oh, strip off these hours, one by one, till I feel your flesh against mine again….. [….] No, I cannot write any more. I can only express a vindictive wish that when we meet I may get a little of my own back for this rape and outrage. I looked at your window today. I could just see the top of your door which will let me in. Then I walked on and had an entirely new view of Inverness Terrace – A Valentine’s-eye view.
My love, my tremblings, my hurrying heart’s blood.
How comparatively calm I began this letter.
And following Valentine’s arrival in London on 17 October 1930:
It was a five minutes’ walk from my door to hers. When she came to London I reversed the sun. My day began when I went to spend the night with her, lying in a narrow bed under a lofty ceiling. Into the four days between my departure from Chaldon and her arrival in London we had packed a month’s impatience and curiosity. We had liked, now we loved; we had to learn each other all over again.
‘O my America! my new-found land.’ My America was a continent of many climates: reckless, serious, fastidious, melancholy, sophisticated, compassionate, self-willed, self-tormenting, shy, sly, proud, suspicious : a continent of all climates of love, from vehemence to delighted amusement, from possession to cajolery. I had not believed it possible to give such pleasure, to satisfy such a variety of moods, to feel so demanded and so secure, to be loved by anyone so beautiful and to see that beauty enhanced by loving me.
The nights were so ample that there was even time to fall briefly asleep in them, to waken and eat chicken sandwiches (‘tonight I thought we would be vulgar and have champagne’), to admire her by candlelight, to stroll across to the large bare window and look at the northern sky, to be swept into more love-making, to fall asleep in her arms, to wake and admire her by light of day as she lay asleep. Waking or sleeping, it was the stillest face I have ever known, her lips betrayed nothing unless amusement slightly sharpened them into a fox’s smile; to learn what she felt, I watched the pupils of her eyes.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Narrative 2 – I’ll Stand By You : The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland