Dear Sterling:—

You may be sure that your delight upon hearing from me was no greater than mine when your letter came. I had nothing at all in mind when I wrote you but a wish to tell about my belief in your genius. I wanted absolutely nothing but the memory that I had done that. You could have left silence and it would have made no appreciable difference. But you couldn't feel silence—you couldn't.

I have gained by actually doing an unselfish thing. One generally does somehow, does one not? I knew, what I expressed by inference, that no man now living know the color-values of words better than you; that no man now living is nearer to the secret of poetry than you. But I did not know that you could be whole-hearted. I did not know that you could be a — comrade. I know it now — and have gained that much, which is very much.

Your letter carries the very good news that you are not rich. I congratulate you. I have several wealthy friends who would pay the muse well for a little kindness, and without exception, they are hopelessly cut off from the [upper?] air. And how they try!

Poverty — up to a certain point — is a valuable asset. But the time comes when it is a terrible, terrible burden. I know after the 15th of this month I shall be as poor as Jesus Christ and Socrates together. But this is not the letter of an unhappy man. I am going to dig up enough to get on a small farm in the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas, where I can raise what I need — and a little more as my debt to Society — and have fire-wood for the labor of chopping it. Do you think there is anything odd about raising potatoes, corn, hogs, with a Greek copy of Homer in one's hip pocket and nebulous poems in one's head? It can be done, for I have done it. God knows the world never asked for poets—though it can be proud of them when it is too late. I ask nothing from society, but my fighting chance. I will do the rest. But I must have the fighting chance, and I will fight to get it.

A wife? — You mention a wife. What should one do without her? I have one, and a baby. Women have the genius for faith — real women. It was partly owing to talks at my wife that I wrote you when I did.

When one is temporarily befogged — all wires cut — no communication with endless things — one has a way of lighting one cigarette how the butt of another and indulging in a monologue to one's patient wife. It's like an added compass feeling for the north. At such times I have said, "Sterling would understand what I am saying" and she has after said "Tell Sterling what think of him." — and I did.

As to criticisms so called, everything, wise and unwise, has been said of my work. Often those who praised were quite as ridiculous to me as those who generously warned the reader that I was still at large and very much to be shunned.

Almost no one now writing "criticism" in America knows anything about poetry, because it takes long, hard, patent study to at the fundamental laws. This is a quick-lunch time. Advertisements offer to make musicians in a week —[de Maupassants?] while you wait! There is even a book purporting to teach poetry — the art of writing poetry — to any comer! There seems to be a notion abroad that everyone is faking, and that to appear is the only thing. But time shall devour the faker. There is no cause for worry.

I am beginning to get some rather well-defined suspicious regarding the meaning of life and death. I was born incapable of being religious in the churchy sense could never pray on my knees in the way of my relatives. I could not do it and for a long while I thought I believed nothing about death. But something came over me. I begin to be almost certain generally — absolutely certain at times — that I am going somewhere, that I must be brave and develope, that I must be generous, that hate and fear are too heavy for so swift a traveller as I must be, and that poetry is necessary food by the way I have recognized in you a lean, efficient traveller — and I called you "brother." It was good to hear the word sent back — through the fog — so cheerily.

Be fleet and strong! I shall find breath to applaud your speed. What difference in the end if you or I or John Smith shall do the faultless thing? Somehow we are all the same being.

The sonnet you sent is, of course, exquisite. Your sonnet, ending with that perfectly [riffing?] line about "The thunder and the sun" was very great.

Yes — by all means — let us exchange books. I shall be obliged to wait until I can have copies sent from the publisher, which will take only a few days. By sure to let me see your firm handwriting in the front.

Carmel? How I should love to live there! I can't. Nebraska is hell in two directions — too hot, too cold! Forty-two degrees below zero this winter — one hundred ten in the shade last summer! One can live without ice, but not without coal and the coal trust needs more money.

Special thanks for the golden flowers! Our violets are still hiding, so I can not return the kindness now.


Jno. G Neihardt