The Book of Radiance


I was writing verse for more than twenty five years with no hope, let alone practical chance, to see а single word in print some day. "Your stones will crush her to death," mу brave granny repeated to communist literary bosses - to which Nikolai Tikhonov, one of the most influential, once retorted: "This one won' t be stopped even with а bullet." (Apropos my grandmother: despite all her courage, she was cautious enough throughout the Soviet years to conceal her ancestry, the Polish princely family of Drutski-Lyubetski) Many were the literary notables stoning me. Their name was Legion. Now they have receded into the oblivion, the gone and the few surviving Methuselahs alike. If only my mother could foresee their present insignificance thirty years ago! She did not — my tender and vulnerable mother — and attempted suicide merely to shock me into giving up poetry.

I was adamant whatever come, my ears sealed to the deafening torrent of abuse which met my manuscripts. I was aware of only one, penetrating tune, the sublime melody of my calling. With the years, I overcame the childish thirst to be heard and understood, and, in my newfound resignation, took the vows of intellectual solitude. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (2 Jn 3:13) — the same old story. Boundless solitude was my lot for decades in Russia's deaf-mute expanses in the world's outskirts as my mind hearkened as to the Good Tidings to an invigorating revelation that poetry was to be made for God if at least some snatches of it were to reach Adam's race. 

Never openly clashing with Bolshevism, I denied its satanic essence with my sheer existence. Communists fought back my quiet protest on their well-tested pattern by starting rumours of my madness — rumours busily circulated by the literary mob in its hatred of the high-minded, а Luciferian hatred which consumes apostates. 

Similar rumours spelt the death sentence to many people stronger and more gifted than I was. God saved me from this lot. I took refuge in my seclusion, and never published even а single line that came from my pen. Russian writers and readers considered me dead. 

Now, I was deliberately concealing my witness from the public, and no one could see my feelings, even if none else's in the world equalled them in intensity. This secret strength was а fatal gift, threatening destruction to а world devoid of grace, and to its values. With an intuition that makes animals find an escape from а forest consumed by fire, the weak of this world were seeking refuge in my compassion, though I was the weakest of them all, with the abject life I was leading in oblivion. Yet the miserable of Russia flocked to me — the sick, the humiliated, the homeless, the seekers for the Truth who had lost all hope for justice. I was squandering away my strength to attain for them what seemed unattainable, for the walls of this world, far more fragile than the fastnesses of Heaven, came tumbling down with my modest efforts — and, with the years, а nimbus of omnipotence shone forth above my powerless self. "Aren't you sorry to be so unsparing of yourself?" I was asked one day. "No. I never pity myself," I replied, firmly and sincerely.

А precious gift was destined me on this thorny path: I met composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, а saint of this world. His divine music inspired me to fight а life-and-death battle with the powers-that-be. I spared no effort to have him recognised. Only now, fifteen years later, in our newfound freedom, are the Russian hearts and minds opening to this wondrous spiritual blossom, the glory of Russia. 

Now, literary bloodhounds set by publishers on my track no longer needed to peruse archives in search of my literary antecedents, poets of the Russian Silver Age, in their hope to catch me plagiarising my latest verse from these forgotten classics. Yet they were sure I was plagiarising. "No one can write like this now, especially а woman," said one expert. What was it — abuse or а compliment? Neither. It was а belief in Russia's infinite and incurable degeneration, а faith which needed proof to put down the qualms of its apostles.

These archive detectives were on the right track. True, there was no wall between these gone gods and myself — no wall of time and worldly vanity. Only а vast field of barren literary flowers was dividing us as I picked the snow-white lily of the Russian spirit, which the gods of the Silver Age had dropped to die. I washed away the mud off its petals, warmed the blossom with my breath, and carried it on to pass it on to generations to come.

The world I lived in was decaying in its lusts, falsity and vainglory. Yet there was another and better world close by — а mystical world of boundless grace not to be destroyed or banned; а world of trees in blossom and clouds in the sky, а world ringing with birdsong, and hearts

brimming with pious love and admiration. I knew that, even if the evil of this world crushed me, it would not dry my blissful tears as I was praising the divine ideal which my heart had found and would ever cherish.

My life in literature was а tiny speck of dust on the vast arid plains of Russian intellectual martyrdom. Sharing my fate were sublime achievements of global culture, forbidden in my country — the writings of Vladimir Solovyev, Nikolai Berdyaev, Nikolai Fedorov, Ivan Ilyin, the Fathers of the Church, Jakob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, Silesius, Swedenborg and many many others. Beloved by me, their angelic souls are my dear friends any my everyday circle. 

The 20th century robbed Russia of а true scale of spiritual and artistic values, and distorted its intellectual taste. In this post-lethargic era, my country is coming back to the heritage of her religious philosophers at whom she was only recently throwing mud. She reads them to know herself. 

In my cruel young days, I was firmly believing that they were the true Russia, and I was Russia, and there was no other Russia. May the ashes of oblivion bury the mournful century-long path which my nation was travelling! 

The present volume, The Book of Radiance, contains ten original verse cycles and selected translations from Rainer Maria Rilke's enigmatic "Sonnets for Orpheus". Full of philosophical insights, of an unsurpassed mystical profundity, the German originals are published side by side with my Russian-language versions. 

The Book of Radiance lays bare for my reader my cherished, hitherto secret thoughts — of life eternal, for immortality is the only goal posed to us humans by our Maker; of the Kingdom of God, that is within us, in our heart; of Providence present in every tiny earthly thing as fragrance in а flower; of Russia, crucified for the whole world and waiting in agony to resurrect. 

This book will not offer you one-dimensional verbal portrayals of events and landscapes. It is а long-outdated task for poetry to portray the world, and I am not the one to do it. My mission is to penetrate through emotion the divine workings on earth; through а mystical presentiment of eternity, to become aware of the divine element in man as God's creature; to restore the power of the heavenly Law in worldly souls. I firmly know that the charisma of poetry lies in its artistry, verbal music and inspired efforts to improve the earthly idiom, and the rest is of the Evil One. 

My reader may feel my heartbeat in the tragical spirit of my verse. This feeling will be true but superficial, for underlying my poetry is the tragedy of our sheer existence, а tragedy in which we mortals live since the day we come into this world. But there is an omnipresent presentiment of immortality. 

Does the contemporary reading public need this presentiment? То all appearances, not, for, just as myself, my readers have emerged into today's life de profundis, out of а dire past in which we lived our own lives, so unlike each other. But my reader's grandchildren and their offspring will eventually need this presentiment, for generations are as leaves: the more fall to die every autumn the richer will be the soil that nurtures their mother tree. One day, when we can afford no longer to care for our daily bread, the mind, perfected by changing generations, will attain extraordinary prophetic heights, and an all-penetrating intuition to become aware of the entire amazing wealth of things spiritual. In this awareness, to find answers to eternal questions will be far more important than sheer living. 

What, then, is my own answer to the challenge? 

I can put up with the world, myself and the entire human race — you, too, my dear reader, only when I am conscious of the Eternity and immortality. My love is composing verse to make this idea not а vain daydream but а palpable spiritual reality. My poetry is winning for you and me а place in the Eternity.

Valeriya Lyubetskaya