Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Iulia de Beausobre

While out and about the other day, I happened to walk into a small, quiet library, started by a friend and mentor who is no longer with us; my fingers wandered through the titles until I found a rare copy of a book I had not held in my hands for a long time. The name of it is Flame in the Snow, written by Iulia de Beausobre (Lady Julia Namier). The Flame referred to in this slim volume is a man known as Seraphim of Sarov. Beausobre was a Russian aristocrat, a contemporary of the Symbolist poets and acquaintance of Pasternak's. As the wife of an executed aristocrat, she survived the concentration camps (barely) and later immigrated to England.

On page 105, Beausobre describes Seraphim's deliberations upon being asked by a well-known statesman for advice, after which he made a decision to spend years in silence. Following are other small excerpts from my reading.

"We must listen," Seraphim said softly. "If we listen to the silence, we  may hear what they should know. Then, we can tell them. Their own lives are too noisy."
...
Seraphim's silence was more than a refraining from the uttering of words. All that language stands for was henceforth eliminated from his life and his mind. 
...
Men have two ways of communicating with each other: they speak, and perceive the pattern of human thought, they look into each other's faces, and gain vision of human life, neither can be acquired second hand.

In communicating through speech, words are our instrument: an instrument, potentially, of great precision. Entering deeper into the realm of silence, Seraphim completely stemmed the flow of words within him. Not only the flow of spoken words; even the flow of words that well up in the mind. He joined the host which supplicates, lauds and blesses without words.
...
The circle of his interest was narrowing, narrowing to a luminous pin point from which he could not deflect his mind's eye.
...
Fluffy, gentle, slow, the great snow flakes tumbled, danced, chased each other round about him. The hoary, flesh pink pines stretched up on all sides, proclaiming earth's joy in heaven. They, her myriad arms, stretched heavenward in a movement of silent delight.

...





While I read, the ache of a memory of an unknown homeland, an echo from childhood and yet not a childish longing, stirs within me. How I yearn to become worthy of a journey to this place. I stretch out one toe forward onto the path, and tumble backwards into a heap. I weep for the sin of not-weeping-enough, for the hardness of my heart, for the forgetting of what is most important. The full moon shines serenely, silently above my snow-encrusted roof. I scramble for the strength to stand up and seek the path again.

Iulia de Beausobre




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