January 6, 2011

Our Closest Friend

Leo Tolstoy, by Leonid Pasternak

Our effort, I suggest, can be dedicated to this: to assume the unity of Life and Death and let it be progressively demonstrated to us. So long as we stand in opposition to Death we will disfigure it. Believe me, my dear Countess, Death is our Friend, our closest friend, perhaps the only friend who can never be misled by our ploys and vacillations. And I do not mean that in the sentimental, romantic sense of distrusting or renouncing life. Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love. . . . Life always says Yes and No simultaneously. Death (I implore you to believe) is the true Yea-sayer. It stands before eternity and says only: Yes.

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
Epiphany, 1923


  1. Have spent some time today helping a friend come to terms with the care needs of his ill and elderly mother. I so wish that I could send this to him but I don't know whether or not he would find relief in it.

  2. This brings to mind the words of Dawna Markova in which she reflects on "practicing for death":

    "When I die, I want to remember the pulse of life. . . It's no so much about being prepared for death as it is about being full of life. I want to be so well practiced in crossing thresholds that dying is merely another step in the dance."

    I've never forgotten that quote since reading it for the first time in Joyce Rupp's "Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self".

  3. I'm totally with Rilke in his assumption of the unity and the interpenetration of Life and Death, and in his distrust of the sentimental, romantic idea of renouncing Life in favour of Death. He's saying Death is essential to Life, Life would not be anything without Death, Death makes us live more passionately and intensely. All true. Though of course it's not easy to embrace the idea of Death in this way - as a positive rather than a negative - which is why he begins by urging the dedication of some effort to the concept.

    Re. Tolstoy (and thanks for your link to the Tolstoy article btw) my wife is reading Rosamund Bartlett's new biography of Tolstoy at the moment and thoroughly recommends it. If I remember correctly, Tolostoy had 12 children - 5 of whom died either in childbirth or when very young. (Incidentally, I should try 'Anna Karenina' before 'War and Peace', as the latter might be a case of jumping in at the deep end first, or like reading 'Duino Elegies' or 'The Sonnets to Orpheus' before the 'Dinggedichte'!)

  4. i wouldn't have known this for myself until my dad flew away. steven

  5. my father tried to talk to we children as he welcomed death - i never understood it because i wanted him to stay with me. but later, i realized how selfish that was when he was suffered. i then knew that i wanted him to have the freedom to go without guilt.

  6. I laugh. What I felt throughout reading this post was so simple. And then the end. My feeling in all honesty was a mouth opened, yes~


  7. Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death" explores this theme.

    Would it be possible to post a little information about the painter in the sidebar? Any relation to Boris? Full confession: I am a visual artist myself so I'm emotionally invested.

  8. I have let ArtSparker know by email that information about painter Leonid Pasternak is in the "About the Images" link at the top of the sidebar. We'll continue to post information about subsequent artists.

  9. I often think of Don Juan words to Carlos Castenada "that death is an advisor, that it sits over our left shoulder."

  10. I agree with the Buddhists that we should meditate a little on death each day, because, otherwise, we might remain unconscious of the gift of life that we have in the present moment. Without death, life would have no meaning. Somehow, Blake's famous words seem appropriate here: "He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy; but he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity's sunrise." As Rilke says, "death is the true Yea-sayer."

  11. Every morning I read a little of Who Dies? by Stephen Levine. Then I watched a docu tonight called The Secret You BBC Horizon. Confused? You will be if you watch that!!

  12. The Rumi reading for the 7th:

    Don't let your throat tighten
    with fear. Take sips of breath
    all day and night, before death
    closes your mouth.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!