A letter in the dark

A letter in the dark

A desperate and yet hopeful act, this.  People throwing letters out of trains taking them to the gulag, trusting that those letters may be found, and found, sent, and sent, reach their destination.  And how much more remarkable that some of those letters, cast into an...
A beautiful flowing hand

A beautiful flowing hand

The American chef Julia Child describes how her husband approached letter-writing in an age when trans-Atlantic telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and letter-writing was the normal way to stay in touch at a distance.  It inspired me to start writing letters...
In my pocket, in my heart

In my pocket, in my heart

From time to time I receive a long and handwritten letter from one of my brothers and I am long overdue in responding to him.  I think this comment from the German poet Hölderlin to his sister is as good a prompt as I could hope for.  How lovely that he took her...
A hospital for poets

A hospital for poets

The 18th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin considers philosophy as a possible cure – or at least refuge – for an afflicted poet.  He was of a delicate constitution and it isn’t clear that it actually helped him in the long run, but it’s...
My kind of letter

My kind of letter

Love receiving ‘real’ letters, and so was thrilled to find this beautiful envelope in the letter box, apparently made from an old map. I’ve come across map-made envelopes before, but they put the map on the inside so the outside was white and you...
For love of a letter

For love of a letter

A letter carried, quite literally, close to the heart, despite the torment its presence provokes. Vasily Grossman’s mother died in a ghetto, and having failed to get her out of it while he could, he lived with the sorrow and guilt of her loss. His Life and Fate...
Mail at last

Mail at last

We forget, swamped as we are with constant connectivity, the past hunger for letters and news when travelling.  I remember a few years in China and Taiwan, before the advent of email, when we would rush from class to our pigeon holes or letter boxes in the hope there...
Close to your heart

Close to your heart

I’ve heard of people keeping letters, including under their pillow, but never one permanently about your person.  This letter from the poet and priest George Herbert was so well written that its recipient, a man of tremendous learning, kept it quite literally...
An awakened influence

An awakened influence

Charlotte Bronte describes the spirit of writing when it flows. This happens to me occasionally, and I’ve noticed you can’t wait for it before writing. It comes of its own volition but only once you start. It also makes you wonder if writers are as much...
The taste of brass

The taste of brass

You can feel it can’t you – that cold-surface metallic sensation in your mouth?John Keats fell in love and fell fatally ill within a short period of time, parting definitively from Fanny Brawne when it was concluded that the best chance he had of surviving...
The backward bin

The backward bin

John Keats’ letters are full of wry humour and playfulness, interwoven with a rage to live and frustration and despair at the TB which killed him within a few years. Here, writing to his beloved Fanny Brawne, I delighted in his offering to be to her as wine in...
Letters unsent (II)

Letters unsent (II)

Clemency Burton-Hill describes the sight that greeted friends of the composer and pianist Erik Satie when, following his death in 1925, they were finally able to enter his apartment, to which nobody had been given access for decades. Quite apart from the stacked grand...
A plea for pity – II

A plea for pity – II

Keats’ plea for tolerance, given we each have flaws that can be painfully exposed.  See Theodore Dreiser’s similar suggestion that pity and compassion be given more room in a stony-hard universe. And George Eliot importunes us to lean towards tenderness...
Another long letter

Another long letter

Those were the days when conversations at a distance had to be committed to paper, and I like Bronte’s preparation for writing a long letter on the grounds that the addressee’s own letter caught her interest. Along with one of my brothers, I am on a...

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