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Rosa Luxemburg to Hans Diefenbach

Wronke, March 30 1917

An excerpt from this letter can be listened to here.

Dear Hans,

Despite the beautiful state of inner harmony that I have been at such pains to cultivate, yesterday before I fell asleep I was seized again by a despair far blacker than the night. And today is another grey day, without sun—a cold east wind … I feel like a frozen bumblebee. Have you ever found a bumblebee like that in the garden on the first frosty morning in autumn—lying on its back in the grass, quite stiff, as though dead, its little legs drawn in and its little fur coat covered with frost? Not until the sun warms it through does it slowly start to move and stretch its little legs, then the little body rolls over, and at last rises ponderously into the air with a loud droning sound. I always made it my business to kneel down next to frozen bumblebees and bring them back to life with the warm breath from my mouth. If only the sun would wake my poor self from this deathly chill! Meanwhile I fight against the devils within, like Luther—with my inkwell. And so you must be my victim and suffer a barrage of letters. While you are still loading your big gun, I keep peppering you with my small-calibre pistol until you are filled with fear. By the way, if you loaded your guns this slowly at the front, then our current retreat from the Somme and the Ancre does not surprise me at all, and you will surely have it on your conscience if we have to make peace without annexing beautiful Flanders.

Thank you very much for the little book by Ricarda Huch on [Gottfried] Keller. Last week, when I was feeling quite wretched, I read it with pleasure. Ricarda really is an extremely sensible and intelligent person. It is only her very balanced, restrained, self-controlled style that seems to me somewhat forced. Her classicism strikes me as somewhat pseudo-classical and deliberate. After all, anyone who is truly rich and free in themselves can act naturally at all times, and let their passion sweep them along without being untrue to themselves. I have also been re-reading Gottfried Keller: the Zurich Novellas and Martin Salander. Please don’t be angry when I say that Keller cannot write novels or novellas. What he produces is always just a tale of long-gone, dead things and people, but I am never present when something happens. I only ever see the storyteller digging up pleasant memories, as old people like to do. Only the first part of Der grüne Heinrich is truly alive. In spite of that, Keller always does me good, because he is such a fine fellow, and if you like someone, you are happy to sit with them and chat about the most trivial things and the smallest recollections.

I have never experienced a spring as consciously and fully as the one last year at this time. Maybe that’s because it came after a year in cell 69, or because I now know every bush and every blade of grass intimately and so can follow the unfolding in fine detail. Do you remember how, only a few years ago in Südende, we tried to guess the identity of a yellow-flowering shrub? You ›proposed‹ that we accept it as ›laburnum‹. Of course it was no such thing! How glad I am that three years ago I suddenly plunged into the study of botany the way I do everything: with all my fire and passion, with my entire being, so that the world, the party and my work ceased to exist for me and only one passion possessed me day and night: to be outdoors roaming about the springtime fields, gathering armfuls of plants, and returning home to sort them, identify them, and put them between the pages of my notebooks. I lived through the whole springtime then as though in a fever. How I suffered when I sat in front of a new little plant and was unable for a long time to identify or classify it. Many times I almost fainted, so that Gertrud [Zlottko] became cross and threatened to take the plants away from me. But now, in recompense, I am at home in the green realm of plants. I have conquered it—taken it by storm, with passion—and anything you grasp with fervour takes root inside you.

Last spring I had a partner in these wanderings: Karl Liebknecht. Perhaps you know how he had been living for many years past: always busy with parliament, sessions, commissions, discussions, always harried and stressed, always leaping from the train to the electric tram and from the tram into a cab, all his pockets crammed with notepads, his arms full of freshly purchased newspapers, which he could not possibly have found time to read, his body and soul covered with the dust of the street, and yet all the while with an amiable, youthful smile on his lips. Last spring I forced him to stop for a while, to remember that there is a world beyond the Reichstag and the Landtag, and on several occasions he strolled with Sonja [Liebknecht] and me in the fields and the Botanical Gardens. He could take a childish delight in the sight of a birch tree with its young catkins! Once we trekked right across the fields to Marienfelde. You know that route—remember?—we went that way together one autumn, and had to walk through stubble. But last April with Karl, it was in the morning and the fields were a fresh green from the winter sowing. A warm wind was chasing grey clouds this way and that across the sky in fits and starts, and one moment the fields were sparkling in bright sunshine and the next moment they had darkened to an emerald green in the shadows—it was a magnificent display as we walked along in silence. Suddenly Karl stopped and began leaping about strangely and with a serious expression on his face. I looked at him in astonishment and was even a little alarmed. »What’s the matter with you?« I asked. He merely answered, »I’m so blissfully happy.« At which, of course, we fell about laughing.

Affectionately yours,

[P.S.] You wanted, mistakenly, to classify me as ›the fairest jewel‹ in the string of pearls of Hindenburg’s ›apes from Asia and Africa‹. Officially, I am not a ›prisoner of war‹. The proof: I have to pay for the stamps for my letters.

Revised by Ros Mendy


The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg. Translated by George Shriver. Edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis and Annelies Laschitza. London: Verso. 2011. pp. 384 – 387.