'I got your letter and realised at once that it was from you'
Letters of Nonsense
Born in 1905, Daniil Kharms was a Russian surrealist poet and writer who in 1937 confessed in his journal, “I am interested only in nonsense…”—a statement that goes some way to explaining his letters, some of which were finally translated into English in 2013 and included in the highly recommended book, “I am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary”: The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms. Because you deserve nothing but good things, I thought I’d pluck a few from that very volume and offer them up with no real context, because to try would be a waste of our collective energy.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. Should you like your letters to be sensible and inoffensive and entirely intelligible, you may wish to look away.
25th of September and October 1933
Dear Nikandr Andreevich,
I got your letter and realised at once that it was from you. At first I thought that it might not be from you, but as soon as I opened it, I realised at once that it was from you, otherwise I was about to think that it wasn’t from you. I’m happy that you got married a long time ago, because when a man gets married to someone he wanted to marry that means he’s accomplished what he wanted. So now I’m quite happy that you got married because when a man gets married to the person he wanted to marry, that means he’s accomplished what he wanted. Yesterday I got your letter and thought at once that the letter was from you, but then thought, it seems that it’s not from you but I opened it and see—exactly, it’s from you. You did very well to write to me. At first you didn’t write, but then suddenly wrote, although even earlier, before you didn’t write for a time, you had written too. As soon as I got your letter, I decided at once that it was from you and then I was very happy that you’re already married. For once a person’s conceived a desire to get married then he has to get married no matter what. Therefore I’m very happy that you finally married someone you wanted to marry. And you’ve done very well to write me. I was delighted when I saw your letter, and even thought at once that it was from you. True as I was opening it, the thought suddenly occurred to me that it wasn’t from you but then I nevertheless decided that it was from you. Thanks for writing. I am grateful to you for this and very happy for you. Perhaps you can’t guess why I’m so happy for you but I’ll tell you right off that I’m happy for you because you got married and precisely to the person you wanted to marry. And this, you know, is very good—to marry precisely the person you wanted to marry, because then you accomplish precisely what you wanted. And that’s precisely why I’m happy for you. I’m also happy that you wrote me a letter. I had decided from a distance that the letter was from you, but as soon as I took it in my hands, I thought: but what if it’s not from you? And then I think: come off it, of course it’s from you. I open the letter myself and at that moment think: from you or not from you? from you or not from you? Well as soon as I opened it, I saw it was from you. I was delighted and decided to write you a letter too. There’s a lot to say, but literally no time. I wrote as much as I could manage in this letter, the rest I’ll write in another, otherwise I don’t have any time at all now. At least it’s good that you wrote me a letter. Now I know that you’ve been married for a while. I know from your previous letters that you were married and now I see again—it’s absolutely true, you got married. And I’m very happy that you got married and wrote me a letter. Just as soon as I saw the letter I decided that you got married again. Well, I think, it’s good that you got married again and wrote me a letter about it. Write me now about your new wife and how it all turned out.
My regards to your new wife.
28 June 1932
Dear Tamara Aleksandrova and Leonid Savel'evich,
Thank you for your wonderful letter. I have re-read it many times and learned it off by heart. I can be awakened in the night and I will immediately and word-perfectly begin: ‘Hello there, Daniil, we are completely lost without you. Lyonya has bought himself some new...’ and so on, and so on.
I have read this letter to all my acquaintances. Everyone likes it very much. Yesterday my friend came to see me. He wanted to stay the night. I read him your letter six times. He smiled very broadly, so it was evident that he liked the letter, but he didn't have time to express a detailed opinion, for he left without staying for the night. Today I went round to his place myself and read the letter through to him once more, so as to enable him to refresh his memory. Then I asked him for his opinion. But he broke a leg off one of his chairs and with the aid of this leg he chased me out on to the street and furthermore said that if I turn up once more with this drivel he will tie my hands up and stuff my mouth with muck from the rubbish pit. These were, of course, on his part rather rude and stupid remarks. I, of course, went away and took the view that he quite possibly had a bad cold and that he was not himself.
This evening the letter came to grief. It happened like this: I was standing on the balcony, reading your letter and eating semolina. At that moment Auntie called me into the living room to help her wind the clock. I covered the semolina with the letter and went into the room. When I came back the letter had absorbed all the semolina into itself and I ate it.
I read a very interesting book about how one young man fell in love with a certain young person, and this young person loved another young man, and this young man loved another young person and this young person loved another young man yet again, who loved not her but another young person. And suddenly this young person stumbles down a trapdoor and fractures her spine. But when she has completely recovered from that, she suddenly catches her death of cold and dies. Then the young man who loves her does himself in with a revolver shot. Then the young person who loves this young man throws herself under a train. Then the young man who loves this young person climbs up a tram pylon from grief and touches the live wire, dying from an electric shock. Then the young person who loves this young man stuffs herself with ground glass and dies from perforation of the intestines. Then the young man who loves this young person runs away to America and takes to the drink to such a degree that he sells his last suit and, for the lack of a suit, he is obliged to lie in hospital, where he suffers from bedsores, and from these bedsores he dies.
In a few days I shall be in town. I definitely want to see you. Give my best wishes to Valentina Yefimovna and Yakov Semyonovich.
February 28, 1936.
My best wishes to Kirill on his birthday, and also to his parents, who are successfully fulfilling the plan prescribed by nature of raising a human offshoot unable to walk up to the age of two years, but then, with time, beginning to destroy everything in sight and, finally, in the attainment of a young preschool age, using a voltmeter stolen from his father’s desk to smash the head of his beloved mother who had failed to dodge an especially agile attack conducted by her not as yet completely matured child, already planning in his immature occiput that once having knocked off his parents, he could turn all his most ingenious attention to his grandfather, grizzled with silver hairs, thereby proving his mental development, so abnormal for his age, in honour of which, on the 28th of February, some of the admirers of this truly extraordinary phenomenon are gathering, among whom, to my great regret, I will be unable to count myself, since I find myself at the given moment in a certain state of tension, going into raptures on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, with the ability characteristic of me since my childhood years, once I’ve grabbed a steel pen and dipped it into an inkwell, to express in short and distinct phrases my profound and, at times, even, to a certain extent, highly elevated thought.
Extracted from the wonderful, fascinating, and often baffling book, “I am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary”: The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms. Selected, translated and edited by Anthony Anemone and Peter Scotto. Academic Studies Press. Reprinted with permission.