My lung was fair at least out there, here where I’ve been for the last fortnight. I’ve not been able to see the doctor. But it can’t be so bad considering for instance that I was able – holy vanity! – to chop for an hour and more without getting tired, and yet was happy, for moments. – Letters to Milena (1917)
In the beginning his swing is wobbly, but gains a sort of clipped, if awkward, grace as he chops. It isn’t because he needs wood for any stove. He’s a guest at a spa. It’s only for the beauty of it. Only the desire to say later that he’s done it. And so he can write to Milena and say, well, I’ve been out chopping wood. Holy vanity. He who would later beg that every trace of him be obliterated. Even he can’t help wanting an image of himself as a man chopping wood to lodge in Milena’s imagination. For a moment? For a night? For good? He chops and he chops. A man with a good lungs. A hardy, hardy man.
He’ll be dead of TB in a few years. Milena, the daughter of a dentist. In her obituary of him she will write: “Few people here knew him, for he was a solitary, wise person terrified by life.” But now. Now he’s alive, in love again – doomed. Never more robust than when the end is in sight. He worries the ax from the log – its mouse-like shrieks. He raises the ax high, the wood waiting – then the sound – like a loud distant beautiful knock.