L., on September 5, 1938
Dear Ms. [Laube]!
The echo of last Sunday long resonated with me, and there was no discord in the sound. Your question at the end of the letter said to me that you too were satisfied. Already when I was on the train, I was vexed by my own inept answer: “Yes indeed, it was very nice.” You should not have asked. I will not permit you to believe that a small annoyance could so easily put me in a bad mood. I was not chagrined at all that you paid our train supplement. You know my attitude: you are sacrificing to travel the farther distance; I earn in one day what you earn in two; a young woman must calculate differently than a young man. I awaited your letter. If it had not come on Friday, I would have begun to wonder.
It was good that our conversation turned to your past relationship; it was our conversation that lead to that directly, you were not responsible for that. I am not curious. I will never try to force you to talk, as I know and experience it for myself that it can sometimes be hard to find the just the right word. I assume that you are no longer concealing anything decisive for the continuation of our friendship. If I ask you to tell me some details only every so often, then only to free you from them and so I can bear them with you, for I am complicit.
When you told me that he gave up his position for you, I was a little shocked, first, because I thought: it has already come to that between them, but then that this relationship was so laden with consequences for the young man. This relationship began under a bad omen. You sought to forget but were not yet free internally. He sought total trust, he wanted you completely. We will be glad and thankful if he finds himself again. In my eyes, you did not lose. It was not impulsiveness and flattery that led you to him. But you have impressed me. Now I am even more certain that your inclination is not superficial. So what is my attitude about it now? You come [to me] with the riches of a [prior] love — I [come] poor with distrust and doubt, will examine [it] first, consider. I cannot do otherwise. That is probably a man’s way of doing things. And it is a safeguard; for once I have said yes, I must stay true to it. I ask you to understand this [about me] and be patient with me.
You may write that you feel spurned. Yet you cannot say that I have spurned you. I would like to make that clear yet again. Spurned, that means rebuffed in this context. I have not rebuffed you. I simply had not reckoned with the possibility of a relationship and initially brushed it aside as implausible.
I am a person who reckons realistically.
I suppressed my feelings so long as I felt that the time was not yet come.
I wanted to approach a woman only once I had something to offer her.
When I saw my comrades at age 16 going around with girls, I had no understanding for how they and the girl[s] could hold out/off for six years.
When I looked around for girls, then I did so among those who were the same age as I.
I almost began to doubt whether you were on the right track when you wrote: “I know that another young woman meant a lot to you.” She fell out of my reckoning just because of her age.
I counted you among the youngsters, among the girls of slight and low spirit for whom a dalliance doesn’t matter. I know that I did an injustice to you by it.
But tell me yourself, how could I believe that a young woman, without any encouragement, could lose her heart to a man 13 years her elder? And I write this, as far as I know: until the long holidays in 1937, I am not aware that I am guilty of any glances [your way].
It was in the Fall of last year. We were walking alone from Choir practice, you probably arranged it that way. At our parting it broke forth from you, from quivering lips, dark and uncanny, with a clear, deep voice, gripping my hand, I wanted to withdraw it: “I have heard you are leaving, I thank you — —” You got no further. With a mollifying word, I cut off the speech.
Well, it is only really today for the first time that I am sorry that I did not listen to you, that I did not already offer this young burning heart a little relief. I did not intend this outbreak of emotion, I feared it (the memory of it does not need to be embarrassing for you) because I did not want to nourish any false hopes. I recall quite clearly that, at the next dance, I coaxed you with many light words to avoid stirring up the past. From that evening on, I knew that you had an interest.
Now you should torment yourself no longer and be cheerful again.
A few more words might belong here in association with last Sunday. I can not be cynical.
Being cynical—that means to pull down the corners of your mouth and sneer arrogantly at someone.
A cynical person is devoid of kindness.
I could never deride you, and if I were offended by a fault or a failure in you, I would make you aware of it, perhaps not immediately, that cannot always be managed, but when a good opportunity arose.
You cannot be wily.
Young women become wily when they roam around with dissolute men. Wily young women play with love, their sensibilities are no longer pure and deep, it is sickly. Being wily in love is to be unclean in love.
You are too sweet-natured and kind for that, could not easily knock someone off. That is betrayed already by the soft features of your face.
That places you in a certain degree of danger:
You attract men who hope to find an easy game. You will not be able to fend off the more pushy, wily people.
Just as one may not touch all things if they ought to preserve their beauty, so one may not speak of all things if they should remain dear and holy.
That which is most blessed cannot be put into words.
Much becomes common once we bespeak them, once we put them in our mouth.
Once our hand is snared by sin, it becomes visible; once our mouth is snared by sin, it is not less grave just because it is invisible.
You should not take these remarks as directed at you.
Yesterday I did not get to writing the letter. I sat down directly after school. Now I will bring it with me and tomorrow I know it will be in your hands, in your pretty, cold hands.
May it give you confidence that nothing dark, alien has forced its way between us.
Good-bye and best wishes,