Maria Alexandrovna Platonova, the writer's widow, held out the tattered notebook, but warned me:|
"Only you must return it straight away. Look through it, and then I'll give you another...."
Not out of mistrust of me, but because she knew the real worth of those little books.
"When you glance through them," she told me, "you can see how the notes were made, and what the conditions were like: in haste, on the move, anyhow--the thing being to catch a striking thought on the wing, or jot down something worth recording. Some of the scribbling pads and notebooks are badly torn, with traces of mud from the trenches. You feel they shared some rough journeys with their owner. Those are Platonov's wartime travelling companions. He was a war correspondent, and toured the front line on many of the fighting fronts in the last war. When be was mulling over some idea for a story, Andrei loved doodling. I found electric circuit diagrams in several scribbling pads. He drew them when he was working on a story. Who knows, maybe that's when be wrote his tales of the nineteen twenties-—"The Homeland of Electricity" and "Lenin's Lamp"-— the ones known to every schoolboy and girl now. Incidentally, he built country power stations with bis own hands, worked on reservoirs in the dry areas, was an engineer, and be really knew bis blueprints and formulas."
Ordinary little scribbling pads, little books in worn covers.... But no dates. They were his constant life companions.
"I managed to rescue them," says Maria Alexandrovna. "I have about fifty of them here.... But be used to reproach me: 'What are you keeping them for?...' "
"What are you keeping them for?..." Maria Alexandrovna now literally has to restore with the aid of a magnifying glass what was, for him, only the "raw material for future works." Whenever he was working on something, be seldom resorted to his jottings, although some entries went into his tales and stories almost word for word. Platonov wrote in one of his notebooks:
"It would be strange to publish anything 'From the Notebooks,' because one mustn't feed the reader with the raw material; it's a mark of disrespect for the reader and arrogance on the writer's part."
The publication of excerpts from the notebooks will not seem strange today. The reader values all parts of the heritage left by a writer of great talent.
* * *Wisdom lacks only time--eternity. It sees everything just in a moment of a brief time-span. Hence, from the length of history comes insufficient wisdom.
* * *... The locals welcome the soldiers with honey, bread and strawberries. Seventy-year-old Marfa Mezenina has come out of the forest with her daughter and three grandchildren. Her son-in-law is in the Red Army. Marfa has spent eight months in the forest. She and the children are dirty and ragged. They hid corn in a grave and set up a cross on it. The sack rotted, but the grain survived. It hibernated, but didn't die.
* * *Work is conscience.
* * *... To change life, to transform it into a happy future, one must, from the very beginning of the struggle, have the seed of this future within one as an element of personal character, even though it is hidden from sight....
* * *... a cemetery for those killed in the war. And what should have been accomplished, but never was, comes to life: creativeness, work, achievement, love--the whole picture of what might have been, of life unfulfilled. To depict what was really destroyed--not just bodies. The great canvas of life and of lost souls, possibilities.
* * *The highest expression of the people's drama is their battle with the foe for existence.
* * *The dead remain at the same eternal age at which they died.
* * *A soldier in hospital, badly wounded, talks to his dead comrades at night. "The dead can give the best advice. Why? They're impartial."
* * *After the war, when a memorial is erected in this land to the eternal glory of the soldiers, another memorial should be built facing it to the eternal memory of the martyrs among our people. The walls of this memorial should bear the names of tottering old men, women, and babes in arms. They likewise met their deaths at the hands of mankind's executioners.
* * *The truth is a mystery, always a mystery. There are no obvious truths.
* * *Gain strength from adversity.
* * *Old age: "I do so wish somebody would take out my bones, wash them in brine, and put them together again, I'm so tired, tired to the very marrow...."
* * *Two people: one leads in difficult, the other in easy times. Only the first is loved and adored as by right.
* * *Don't confuse yourself with humanity!
* * *Man learns nothing from pleasure.
* * *Love for a child is love for the well-spring of your own heart.
* * *Children (little ones) are equally "given" to living and not living. This is their principal charm: in defenselessness, in unconcern. The description of this spiritual condition makes up the whole of children's literature.
* * *Children are all intelligent persons. The great lie is to look down on them; they're shrewd, amazing, observant folk.
* * *Art consists in expressing what is most complicated by the most simple means. It is the highest form of economy.
* * *The truth has a great failing: it regards itself as a blessing, and wants at all costs to become common property.
* * *Good demands infinitely more energy and time than evil. That is why the good is difficult. The good man never has enough time, but the evil one achieves his ends with ease.
* * *The drama of a great and simple life. A little boy aged two or three walks weeping round an empty wooden table in a poor flat. He misses his father, but his father is lying in a trench, under fire, and there are tears of longing in his eyes; he claws the earth out of grief for his son, who is far away and who, barefoot, half-starved, abandoned, is weeping for him on this grey day.
* * *Art cannot abide a vacuum--it must be filled with life and people, as a meadow with grasses.
* * *The moon like a knight-at-arms over the world!
* * *He would bend down and pick up a lump of soil from the road and throw it into the field, so that it could germinate the grain and not be trampled uselessly to dust underfoot.
* * *The cricket lived under the porch many a summer and sang there at eventide; perhaps it was the same cricket that sang the year before last, perhaps his grandson....
* * *The little boy, weak with hunger, was listless and half asleep. The schoolmistress brought him two pancakes, and he ate them. After that he answered all the questions perfectly.
* * *"When I see someone on the tram who looks like me, I get off."
* * *If you live true to your spirit, your heart, by achievement, sacrifice, and duty, then there won't be any problems, and there won't be any yearning for immortality and so forth. All these things come from an uneasy conscience.
* * *Where else does what is good and noble come from, but from doing, from straining one's utmost, from self-sacrifice?
* * *Two kinds of old men: the first grow old and conduct themselves like the ancients in Pushkin; the others are eternally youthful, ageless scamps.
* * *It's easy to love a woman, for it means loving yourself.
* * *A man doesn't know himself, he must be discovered by the writer.
(Selected and published by Maria Platonova)
Translated by Alex Miller
From "Soviet Literature", 1973, Vol. 6, Moscow, Writer's Union of the USSR.