Notes on love / A found letter by Ingeborg Bachmann

Life is not going to accommodate us, Ingeborg; waiting for that would surely be the most unfitting way for us to be.

Be—yes, we can and are allowed to do so.  To be—be there for another.

Even if it is only a few words, alla breve, one letter once a month: the heart will know how to live.

– Paul Celan to Ingeborg Bachmann, October 31st, 1957

It was on a forgotten table in the Indian Coffee House, M.I. Road, that I found in an abandoned diary an answer to the letter quoted above. It may have been written  by Ingeborg Bachmann or her ghost. It doesn’t matter. I have reproduced the found letter below, without modifications, the authenticity of which must be doubted:


Dear Paul

Life accommodates what we wish for it to accommodate. I will not accept language as replacement of life. You mention, in your rather strange letter, that we are allowed to be – to be there for another. Your sentence already prevents me for being there for you – for I cannot be there for anyone who seeks permission (even if imaginary, even if irrelevant) from society or the universe. Why is there a need for the word ‘allow’? Should life not be lived solely on our own terms – and if it is your own heart that you seek permission from, then it is perhaps better that we be apart in this lifetime, because I cannot be in love with anyone whose heart feels guilty for being in love.

The melancholy climate of Europe seems to affect you badly, dear Paul. Some sunshine might dry off the damp cowardice from your soul. You are perhaps one of the greatest poet of our generation – I cannot neither do I want to argue with that – but poetry sometimes requires sacrifice of life. And in that I stand apart even from poetry. Even from you.

If a letter a month is all that your heart requires to live – then certainly it will learn to live without it. If not, then you will be another one of the many men who have died for lack of life. There’s nothing extraordinary about that fate. Rejoice, then, in the ordinariness of your destiny, Paul.

This will be my last letter to you.


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