Love in the Time of Letters

10 famous love letters that are hauntingly beautiful (and an incredibly heart-breaking one.)

By Rachel Tan


Imagine a 21st century where casual requests of send nudes and slide into my DMs weren’t the prevailing way to communicate with someone.

Back in the day, people put pen to paper in honest declarations of love and adoration. It manifested in all forms: love unbridled, passionate, pining, vulnerable, unrequited, ill-fated. They involved substantially more effort, consideration, and a liberal portion of guts. This practice may have since taken a back seat, but these 10 excerpts from famous love letters will make you rethink the rituals of modern dating.

via Chris Barbalis

1. Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera

All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.
F.

2. Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand, grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let go. The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti

3. Germaine Greer to Martin Amis (titled “The Long Letter to a Short Love, or…”)

Your eyes…are cool-coloured, sort of air force blue-grey, and strangely unreflecting. You slide them away from most things and look at people through your thick eyelids, under your hair, your eyebrows and your lashes. You look at mouths more than eyes. Is it because you hate to look up? It is very shy and graceful and tantalising, as well you know.

via Bethany Legg 

4. Virginia Woolf to Leonard Woolf

What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

V.

5. Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf

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.

6. Simone De Beauvoir to Nelson Algren

Anyhow, you gave me so much, Nelson, what you gave me meant so much, that you could never take it back. And then your tenderness and friendship were so precious to me that I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me. I do hope this tenderness and friendship will never, never desert me. As for me, it is baffling to say so and I feel ashamed, but it is the only true truth: I just love as much as I did when I landed into your disappointed arms, that means with my whole self and all my dirty heart; I cannot do less.

via Dương Trần Quốc

 

7. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alred “Bosie” Douglas

My Own Boy,

Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days…

8. John Keats to Fanny Brawne

You fear, sometimes, I do not love you so much as you wish?

My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve.

The more I have known you the more have I lov’d. In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you.

You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.

When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time. Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you: how much more deeply then must I feel for you knowing you love me.

My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it.

I never felt my Mind repose upon anything with complete and undistracted enjoyment – upon no person but you.

When you are in the room my thoughts never fly out of window: you always concentrate my whole senses.

9. Leo Tolstoy to Valeria Arsenev

I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever previous – your heat, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labour, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.

10. Honoré de Balzac to Countess Ewelina Haska

I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them. I can no longer think of nothing but you. In spite of myself, my imagination carries me to you. I grasp you, I kiss you, I caress you, a thousand of the most amorous caresses take possession of me. As for my heart, there you will always be — very much so.

11. Roosevelt, in his personal diary

On Valentine’s Day 1884, just 36 hours after the birth of their only daughter, Alice, 25-year-old future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt lost his wife as she passed away from undiagnosed Bright’s disease. Hours before, his mother had also passed away due to Typhoid.

Theodore’s diary for that day read as follows.

via Letters of Note