Brain Pickings

Vita Sackville-West’s Love Letter to Virginia Woolf

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“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia.”

“Throw over your man….and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads,” wrote Virginia Woolf to her lover, the English poet Vita Sackville-West, in her exquisite 1927 love letter. But that missive was preceded by one from Vita herself, sent from Milan on January 21 the same year. Disarmingly honest, heartfelt, and unguarded, it stands in beautiful contrast with Virginia’s passionate prose:

…I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

Both letters come from the altogether excellent The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, which features missives from icons like Hemingway, Kerouac, Kafka, and Mozart.

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Book Spine Poetry vol. 6: A Working Theory of Love

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It’s been a while since the last installment of book spine poetry, so here’s another snippet of life-truth, rendered in literary titles:

Bursts,
music,
big questions:
A working theory of love

The books:

Catch up on all previous book spine poems: The Future, Get Smarter, This Is New York, Music, and The Meaning of Life.

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North: How a Small Arctic Town Became a Global Epicenter of Climate Science

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A cinematic history of climate change by way of the North Pole.

From British filmmaker, designer, and storyteller Temujin Doran — who has previously delighted us with this cinematic homage to language, some advice to sink in slowly, a meditation on the art of protest, and a thoughtful take on the distortions of democracy — comes North, an exquisite short documentary about how Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Circle, became an epicenter of climate change science after the Svalbard Act was signed in 1920, an international treaty recognizing Norwegian sovereignty over the islands and declaring the whole region a demilitarized zone.

Doran shot most of the footage during a residency in the Arctic Circle in 2010.

In 1969, as the Swiss were marveling at the hazel trees that had been flowering since January, two men stared back at the world from the surface of the moon and took a photograph of the blue-rimmed planet they lived on — a small fragile planet, all they had, wrapped in life, yet enveloped by war — perhaps the most beautiful image ever made.

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