mad in pursuit: letters from james & orpha, summer of '26

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James has evidently not received Orpha's frustrated letter from yesterday. He is in his own poetic world.

Postmarked Tuesday 8.24.26, from James in Lynbrook NY

A short while ago I planned to devote the evenings of these last two weeks to writing to you – writing as well as I could stories, poems, fantasies. In the past I have been able to transfer, to a degree, the expression of that which is now stronger than I am, gaining some respite from the lash of wanting when I wrote to you. But now I understand too well, and am too completely possessed, to do anything assuaging except work hard.

At times it seems that I cannot live through these two weeks – it helps to know that there must be that long a time for you to get well. Tell me in every letter just how you are – you have not written for several days – as you love me be careful to gain strength, rest.

And yet we are strong, Orpha, for the beauty and perfection of that art depends unalterably upon control. A time like this is like the tempering of finest steel into hardness which can cut through weaker metals without showing a scar. For to be great in an art requires the hardest of temper in that art, for the media of it cannot be mastered and directed by one weak or soft. A great symphony could not be written by one soft or sympathetic in musical composition – he would give way to little melodies and effusions which would make his work beer-garden music.

The analogy can be carried through greatness in all the arts – our own Galsworthy could not create Irene if he had not been an ascetic devotee of beauty; a softer man would have injected a few diffused-light close-ups in the best manner of our heart string tugging Harold Bell Wrights of the silver screen.

A time like this is like the tempering of finest steel...

There is a difference between hardness and coldness; the former, (as I am using the term in this attempt to do some creative meditating in our great secret) is the sine qua non of greatness; the latter, merely the sine qua non of death – death as far as great achievement in this life is concerned. It was hardness that enabled a surgeon to drive a blade into the flesh of a screaming man, to save his life in the days before anaesthetics.

Write me a little if you agree with me about this principle in our art, unless you’d rather wait for a discussion of it.
For I hope with this principle to make it easier for you to wait, if your body is nearly well – easier, yet increasing the intensity of the song for which we have no name.

For hardness is a beautiful thing, if you can cast off the ugly associations of its ordinary meaning. (Always one must employ misfit words when delicate shades and tones are in discussion.)

Orpha-song, can you not see a shadowy vision of the beauty we will find in the room – the beauty we will create through control – control that can come only through goodness and cleanness and ascetic devotion to an ideal—
An ideal we will find as we blend Souls and Minds and flame torn bodies as we love like gods.




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