Self-Portrait as a Soul
Paula Modersohn-Becker to Rainer Maria Rilke
2 November 1908
Rainer, dear friend, you are mistaken.
I am not a ghost.
I am not a forlorn shade that follows you.
It is your imagination,
your guilt, your regret that conjures me.
I have become the purest part of myself.
Once, we spent so many nights together –
we could never sleep.
We spoke of death and Tolstoy and God –
and woven through it all was love.
You asked me if I believed –
You said: ‘I can love you
only if you believe in God.’
I am dead now and I can tell you
that the living can never truly know God.
You have to die first.
This is a self-portrait that can never be painted.
Even my words cannot reach you now.
I want to tell you how the angels are not what you think.
I am tiny and yet vast,
I blaze with light and yet am full of darkness –
I cannot help you anymore.
It is you who must let go of me.
You who must return –
return to the living.