What Nijinsky Wrote About Diaghilev


Vaslav Nijinsky and Sergei Diaghilev in Nice, 1911

 

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

(Excerpt)

“…The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love
But to be loved alone.”

Wystan Hugh Auden

 

The poem was written in 1939, just as German troops invaded Poland and began the Second World War. It was published in The New Republic that year and included in the collection Another Time the following year.

Auden came to dislike this work, finding it “dishonest” and a “forgery.” He had his publisher include a note that the work was “trash he was ashamed to have written”; he also tried to keep it out of later collections of his poems. It is unclear why he felt so embarrassed by the poem.

In January, 1919, Vaslav Nijinsky began scribbling in a notebook. Seven weeks later, Swiss doctors studied four notebooks full of his writings and promptly interned him in a sanitarium for the mentally ill. He was only 29 at the time; he was schizophrenic; and while his fame as the greatest dancer of his time never faded, he lived the last 31 years of his life in seclusion and incoherence. For the next 30 years, Nijinsky was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums. During 1945 after the end of the war, after Romola had moved with him to Vienna, he encountered a group of Russian soldiers in an encampment, playing traditional folk tunes on a balalaika and other instruments. Inspired by the music and hearing his first language, he started dancing, astounding the men with his skills. Drinking and laughing with them helped him start to speak again. He had maintained long periods of almost absolute silence during his years of illness.

His 1919 notebooks contained his final words addressed to the world. These notebooks were his diary. They were published in 1936; however, more than half of the diary was omitted. In 1999, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky: Unexpurgated Edition, by Vaslav Nijinsky, Joan R. Acocella (Ed.), Kyril FitzLyon (Trans.) was published in English by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Below are a few quotes from the diary relating to Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario who took the 19-year-old Nijinsky as a lover and made him the star of his Ballets Russes. Five years later, when Nijinsky left to marry Romola de Pulszki, Diaghilev threw him out of his dance company and tried to destroy his career.

“I loved him sincerely and, when he told me that the love of women was a terrible thing, I believed him.”

“Diaghilev dyes his hair so as not to be old. Diaghilev’s hair is gray. Diaghilev buys black hair creams and rubs them in. I noticed this cream on Diaghilev’s pillows, which have black pillowcases. I do not like dirty pillowcases and therefore felt disgusted when I saw them.”

“Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he touches them with his tongue. They move, and I can see them. Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth…”

“Diaghilev liked to be talked about and therefore wore a monocle in one eye. I asked him why he wore a monocle, for I noticed that he saw well without a monocle. Then Diaghilev told me that one of his eyes saw badly. I realized then that Diaghilev had told me a lie. I felt deeply hurt…”

“I began to hate him [Diaghilev] quite openly, and once I pushed him on a street in Paris. I pushed him because I wanted to show him that I was not afraid of him. Diaghilev hit me with his cane because I wanted to leave him. He felt that I wanted to go away, and therefore he ran after me. I half ran, half walked. I was afraid of being noticed. I noticed that people were looking. I felt a pain in my leg and pushed Diaghilev. I pushed him only slightly because I felt not anger against Diaghilev but tears. I wept. Diaghilev scolded me. Diaghilev was gnashing his teeth, and I felt sad and dejected. I could no longer control myself and began to walk slowly. Diaghilev too began to walk slowly. We both walked slowly. I do not remember where we were going. I was walking. He was walking. We went, and we arrived. We lived together for a long time…”

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