It was in 1930 that English poets Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland moved in together—three years after first laying eyes on each other, and three years before a joint collection of their poetry, titled Whether a Dove or Seagull, was published. Their relationship endured for almost four decades, until Ackland’s death from cancer in 1969. The loving exchange that follows occurred as Ackland’s life came to an end.
My true Love,
I hope with all my heart this won’t be a ‘last’ letter: and if I die and my held-faith is proven, though I hope not to cause you the embarrassment of receiving letters, I shall never leave you unless you want me to.
I ask total forgiveness, and if there is anything at all in all these years (I can’t think of anything) which I might have to forgive you, of course there is total forgiveness from me. There is indeed nothing at all but pure love. Not less pure because it is trimmed with boundless gratitude, the deepest and most ardent admiration respect and delight in you, those last from the very beginning, before love could have been believed in as possible between us.
And, my Love, know that my life has been a truly, truly happy one. Many times unhappy but always happy, fortunate and most blessed.
I can't let myself speculate just now, or even recall in detail, because I know the limitations to my courage, alas. But hear this and remember it: I KNOW nothing whatsoever (though I have tried to) except that Love is real: that you and I love each other: that if one is needed, that is the password into the City.
Try to go on living because life is so beautiful, because of the earth and trees and music and poems and creatures—man too, sometimes, and always the idea of him. And also because you do yourself give courage and wisdom and often teach tolerance, and all these are desperately needed in this desperate time.
But whatever happens, I shall never leave you. I have, to my capacity, stood with you, sheltered and held you, and I shall never not be with you to shelter and comfort and hold you, no matter what you do or what you think you don’t believe.
I’m inclined to think that marriage is a mistake, as we have it now, and should only be declared when it exists for sure. But there is no doubt, after 38 years, that what we have made is marriage—and while the ‘death us do part’ phrase is factually true, it doesn’t say that death breaks the marriage—nor does it. Nothing can.
So, my most dear Love— love you for ever, and believe with all my heart that you love me so. And I bless you.
Thirty-eight years ago I brought you a little bunch of herbs when you lay ill in a large bed with Sir Walter Raleigh and a tortoise. In all those years, my dearest, I have never doubted your love, nor my own. Much of what’s to come is still unsure; but that glorious span of thirty-eight years of love and trust and happiness—care and courage too—will shine on us and protect us. I have always believed you. Even when you gave me scented shells, I believed in them. You are my faith, I will live and die in it. If I have to live on alone, I will live and die in it, and because you believe there is a life after death, I will believe in that too. Our love is the one thing I can never question.
Now in return you must believe that I will be sensible, take care of myself, eat an orange a day, and take care of your possession, your Tib.
My love, my Love. And my heart’s thanks for all you have given me, all your understanding, your support, your tenderness, your courage, your trust. And your Beauty, outside and in, and your delightfulness.
Never has any woman been so well and truly loved as I.
Extract from I’ll Stand by You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, edited by Susanna Pinney. Published in 1998 by Pimlico.