Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 17 (Part 2)
Katherine and John say goodbye * Shakespeare before dinner * A performance * Curtains for Katherine
Today, I write Katherine’s passage into death—thank you for your support and patience. It was hard to get here.
I am struck by the fact that death seemed to come as a surprise to Katherine, even though she “knew” she was close (she had already written a will and a last letter to her husband) for a long, long time. She also suffered physically in the extreme—calling her body a prison, wanting to be free from it like a bird flying away. It stirs compassion to think she was only 34…maybe death is always a shock to the young. And from her journals, we know she hoped for a miracle until the end. That was why she went to the Prieuré after all—for a miracle.
She wrote of death in her journals and letters with great clarity. We know she was interested in the metaphysical and believed in reincarnation.
“I have to die to so much; I have to make such big changes. I feel the only thing to do is to get the dying over—to court it, almost (fearfully hard, that) and then all hands to the business of being reborn again.” (Letter to JMM, 1920)
Today, as I was seeking a quote to open this last chapter, I came across a poem in KM’s final journal. Presumably, she wrote it while at The Prieuré. I read the poem—about a wounded bird—and then shortly after, was startled by a bang on the window. I looked out to find a small, stunned female goldfinch. She had flown into the window, thinking it a continuation of the sky. I prayed, sent Reiki, and watched as she recovered herself; hoping she would fly away. When I finally turned to something else…she flew off, presumably ”not dreadfully hurt.” So, I start this week’s chapter of Tenacious Magic with an excerpt from Katherine’s poem…and thoughts of restoration, repair, and rebirth.
At night, in the wide bed With the leaves and flowers Gently weaving in the darkness She is like a wounded bird at rest on a pool. Timidly, timidly, she lifts her head from her wing. In the sky there are two stars Floating, shining - Oh, waters - do not cover me! I would look long & long at those beautiful stars! Oh, my wings - lift me - lift me I am not so dreadfully hurt… — Katherine Mansfield
Note: If you are new to my Substack, Tenacious Magic is an emergent, serial novel about the teacher/student relationship, the masculine and feminine, Katherine Mansfield and Gurdjieff, power, sexuality, and time. I publish a chapter every Friday. Here is an introduction to the project. Here is Chapter 1. The chapters are free up to Chapter 7, at which point I took it behind the paywall. If you enjoy it, please subscribe and join the discussion. I incorporate reader comments and invite opinions and insights from readers to influence and inform where the story goes. Here is the first part of this chapter, Chapter 17 Part 1.
Now, back to the story…
The Prieuré, Fontainebleu, January 9, 1923
“We haven’t been alone in months, Bogey. It really feels like we’re living separate lives now,” Katherine’s voice is weak, but clear. John nods.
They’re sitting in her loft in the cowshed with glasses of fresh keftir and tea sandwiches. The fire in the small stove cranks steady warmth into the space. Down below, the cows munch and rustle the hay. John looks around, charmed by his wife’s makeshift writing room.
They spent the first couple of hours touring the house and gardens with Mme. Ostrowska, Olgivanna, and a girl called Adele. The women doted on John as an expression of their love for Katherine. She felt grateful for this kindness and took it as a sign of their affection for her. When Katherine needed to rest, they sat with a group making decorations for the Russian New Year celebrations. John and Orage talked about literary London. Katherine was thrilled to hear the confidence in John’s voice. “He’s finally finding his way,” she thought with some relief. It was Olgivanna who suggested they take tea in Katherine’s loft and brought out the tray.
Throughout the day, Katherine is overwhelmed by her perception—she sees more than ever before. She realizes with some alarm that she’s not interacted with anyone outside the Institute since October. Aspects of John’s personality now seem obviously machine-like to her—the multiple “I”s are all clamoring for attention. The facade that frustrated her, the pretensions, now show themselves as the protections they really are. She is surprised to find she can have compassion for him from this place. She no longer resents him or feels her destiny is tied to his. From this distance, she rather likes him again.
Their dynamic is decidedly different. Much that would have felt important before, feels completely inconsequential. Old habits of disagreeing and pushing each other seem completely useless. She just wants to enjoy him. They sit awkwardly in the quiet loft like it’s their first date.
“It’s really something, isn’t it?” He says suddenly, referring to the Institute, “Much scrappier than I expected, but also more organized…quite impressive actually how everyone chips in. You’re right…it’s special. I understand how you’ve been happy here. I couldn’t do it, but it does suit you somehow. You always did have a passion for Russians.”
It relieves her to hear him say it. She doesn’t need his approval—or anyone’s. But, it feels good. She laughs.
He looks at her closely, “My dear…you look radiant. Is there any way you might recover. Maybe you’ve turned a corner? There is something otherworldly to you…a glow. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a woman glow like you are glowing now…I dare not hope…but…how do you feel?”
“I feel…certain. Yes, that’s it. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. I’m right where I need to be…Here. There is nothing else for me. I know I wrote to you in December that I wanted to leave—and I did, then. But, I’ve found peace here and I don’t yet know what comes next. I haven’t quite got the vision, yet. When I do…” His heart sinks. She has never been able to give him the reassurance he seeks.
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