Anais Nin’s childhood writings: Christmas, 1919

The Nin home in Kew Gardens, NY

The Nin home in Kew Gardens, NY

By the time sixteen (almost seventeen) year old Anais Nin wrote the following passage in her childhood diary (translated from the original French), she, her mother, and two brothers had been in New York for five years. Stubbornly hanging onto her French while her hopes of agains seeing her father, who remained in France, were fading, Anais describes her Christmas Eve and Day:

December 26, 1919. After having waited for Maman on Christmas Eve with great impatience, I had the joy of seeing her arrive with a dozen little packages containing a few small details to decorate the tree. After dinner we began to trim the tree–a tall fir, with its topmost branch kissing the lofty ceiling, as though to wish it a Merry Christmas too. The four of us were busy, happily placing the little candles, balls of every color, snowflakes, stars, little dolls, little bags of candy, and all the other charming things that traditionally disguise a solemn evergreen to make it more human, that is, more attractive to man’s gaze and all his senses. That was quickly done. Then came the moment to place the gifts, the packages nicely wrapped in tissue paper and red ribbon, and crowned with a little tag with a name. What mysteries, what smiles!

Joaquinito’s eyes were worthy of study. Thorvald’s were not quite so big, but almost as expressive. My curiosity, which had been dormant a long time, was also awake but less noisy, like Maman’s. Once again I had the impression of being much older in my ideas, very far away from Thorvald and Joaquinito, unable to share their happy-go-lucky nature, and because of that, closer to Maman, closer to the more serious things in Life.

The time came to go to bed. I took one last look at the holly which I had used to decorate the mantels, lamps, windows, and banister, and the mistletoe hanging on a red ribbon. The tree shone at the end of the dark parlor. Do you believe that I thought only of the beauty of the scene? No, mixed with my somewhat poetic impressions were thoughts that responsibility has taught me. I was thinking also that everything was clean and in order. A woman has to be a practical poet!

The night was disturbed by dreams. The doors were open and I heard all of my dear family rolling over and over, each in his own bed. It wasn’t just the excitement of Christmas night, it was also the cold and the wind. .

At dawn I was awakened by a strange feeling of rain on my face. It was snow that the wind invited into my room and onto my bed, through the open window. I got up to close it and saw the result of the silent work accomplished in the night by the Great Painter. The landscape was majestic! I was so thrilled I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I thought. I must have looked funny, half sitting up in bed, staring out of the window, thinking of many different things, while the dim light of early morning filtered slowly into my room. Of course I was the first one dressed. But the snowstorm had been so violent that I didn’t go to Mass.

Before Thorvald and Joaquinito left, we lighted the tree and sang “Venite Adoremus,” accompanied on the piano by Joaquinito. The packages were opened and immediately the cries of joy began.

Breakfast was a little quieter, for Maman wasn’t feeling well. Afterward, while the boys went out, Maman and I dressed with great care. I had made a big tulle bow for my black velvet dress. Sometimes it amuses me to be a coquette….

The visitors arrived a little while before dinner. The dinner was a success, as almost all dinners are. It’s not very difficult to talk, eat; laugh, talk, eat, laugh until it’s over. Some people talk very little and eat a lot. Others only talk and laugh, but several eat well, talk delightfully and laugh at the same time. That must be a characteristic of a “woman of the world.” Doubtless it’s a good quality! By trying hard, I succeeded in talking a good deal in order to be pleasant. I am not unsociable any more! To avoid being unsociable, one must tell lies and act like a clown, which is very simple for liars (or flatterers–same thing) and for clowns!

After dinner we talked. There must be a reason for this old custom. I think it’s because a starving man is not very pleasant, so after dinner everyone has an opportunity to be agreeable, in order to make up for past mistakes.

To complete the celebration of this beautiful day, I went sledding with Thorvald and Joaquin after dinner. There are always many children and it’s a real party. Even now I can see the hill and the sleds going by, overflowing with children. I can hear the shouts clear into Maman’s room, where I am keeping her company, as she is in bed.

They nicknamed me “White Cap” because of my white beret, and since J oaquinito answers all their questions every time I go, yesterday a few of the boys called “au revoir” and other words that they murdered with the worst American accent. I don’t know why, but the few girls who go there can’t stand me, and while I was wondering why all of them were giving me such unkind looks, I heard three girls talking near me as a sled full of boys went by, shouting (the boys, not the sled): “Hello, White Cap!” “Want to ride on our sled?” One girl said: “See that girl with the white tamo’-shanter? Well, she is the biggest flirt!”

And the other one added: “Most of the boys behave like fools since she comes here.”

Decidedly, I will have to change my hair style!

(From Linotte, pp. 392-394) To read Anais Nin’s account of her first Christmas in New York, click here.

 

 

 

Anaïs Nin’s Childhood Writings: The Storm

During a rainy period in June of 1916, Anaïs Nin, then 13 years of age, recorded the following in her diary (translated from the French in Linotte):

Thursday, June 8, 1916

It has rained without stopping all day today. Since I couldn’t go for a walk, I studied all my lessons, and then I began to look out the window. The rain kept falling and the drops fell ceaselessly with little “floc floc” sounds. Floc! Floc! the rain continued and this time I looked at the sky. The sky was full of clouds and that made me feel a little sad because it seemed to me those clouds were made expressly for me, as if to announce the clouds in my future life. Then I put those thoughts aside and left the window.

Sunday, June 11, 1916

Yesterday and today it has rained all day and we didn’t go to Riverside as we usually do. Saturday I spent the day sewing, reading, writing and thinking…

After Mass [this morning], I came home to breakfast and I spent the morning helping Maman. Then we had lunch and Maman took us to the cinema. After seeing 3 very nice films, we came home; it was 6. We had a little cold supper of sandwiches, cake and milk. That is how we spent Sunday.

Now I am thinking of tomorrow, Monday, and with sadness I see the school doors opening just enough to let us in, then closing on our dear freedom. Next come serious lessons, punishments, long stern faces, and above all the big blackboard with little chalk marks that dance before my eyes like little demons that are there just to torture the brain and tire the eyes. Then all that disappears and I sit here sadly, looking at the clock. 10 ½ hours separate me from the studies that I like but fear because of the teachers who scold and are so hard to please.  (Linotte, pp. 129, 130-131)

Cover of Compagnon de L'oublie June 1916

Cover of Le Compagnon de L'oublie June 1916

To help her escape from the mundane and sometimes menacing daily life, young Anaïs absorbed herself in a monthly “magazine” entitled Le Compagnon de L’oublie. In her June 1916 “issue,” one of her works was a poem entitled “La Tempête” (“The Storm”), perhaps inspired by the long melancholy period of rain she wrote about in her diary. A translation appears below:

 

The Storm

In the country, the trees bend

Under the weight of the rain

That is falling in huge drops, under the name cheater,

For it brings a second night.

The sky clears, illuminating the earth for a second,

And then frightens the sleeping birds

With a great clap of thunder, and like bitter tears

The drops of rain become noisily mixed with those already fallen.

Nature, frightened, hides under the rustling leaves,

The flowers close under this brutal dew

And the soaked earth boasts of bearing this squall alone.

The birds, flapping their wings, lift themselves up

And murmur softly, “The Storm.”

 

On the sea, the holy anger becomes rage,

The waves beat furiously,

Sharing the sky’s fury.

The gloomy wind blows and beats the sails with a clamor,

While the ocean, in a supreme effort,

Hesitating and becoming one great wave,

A new voice conjuring,

In its sad and plaintive timbre,

A new force among the other cries,

And while the terrified seabirds seek a hiding place

In the depths of the few rocks along the coast,

The seamen in their crumbling boats

Shake their heads, saying, “Here is The Storm.”

 

And God contemplates His work,

A smile appearing in his white beard,

Seeing the fear,

In his black columns, becoming white,

And while the weather continues shuddering,

God says to Himself softly,

“Poor Man! He cannot see

Anything in my greatness.

Blind, undisciplined! Poor Man!

It’s a storm!”

Copyright The Anais Nin Trust; translation copyright Sky Blue Press. All rights reserved.

 

Anais Nin’s childhood writings: Birth

lecompangnondeloublieIn 1916, less than two years after arriving in America, 13 year old Anaïs Nin created a monthly “magazine” entitled COMPAGNON DE L’OUBLIE, which roughly translates into Companion of the Forgotten, although it is considered to be Companions of Oblivion in Linotte, the English translation of Nin’s childhood diary. These handwritten magazines contained drawings, poetry, and stories. In Linotte, Nin says:

“I had to wipe away the dust that covered my ‘Companions of Oblivion’ in order to show it to Godmother, who was very much interested. She promised to subscribe for 50 cents a month, and we agreed that after I read the monthly journal to Thorvald and Joaquín [Nin’s younger brothers], I am to send it to her, so that I don’t have to write the paper twice. I would spend the day writing happily and without getting tired, but Maman watches over my health and won’t let me do that, saying, “Don’t hurry so much, fifille, you have time.
“Miss Mary Devlin, a friend of Maman’s, came over yesterday in the evening and I had to read her my latest poem, ‘Birth,’ and it seems to me she says it was very good. She told Maman that I could write for ‘Le Courrier des Etats Unis.’ Ah, if I could! My goodness! What a joy for me if I could make use of my chicken tracks and earn a little money for Maman! But alas, I haven’t much hope”(Linotte 139).

The poem Nin refers to follows, from No. 10, the October 1916 issue, translated from the French. She seems to be depicting the idyllic family awaiting the birth of its newest member: the gentle mother, the worried father, the loving grandmother, the doting grandfather. And yet little Anaïs throws in a twist at the end…perhaps life is fragile even in a perfect world.

Birth

 The sun rose clear and proud
O’er a beautiful day in June
The merry birds sang their most beautiful airs
While the pure sky
Shed its protection on all the nests
Big or small
Nature is waiting for someone

A young mother in her room
Leaned her head o’er her work
A sunbeam illuminated her face
Which expressed joy and happiness
Her fine hands drew the needle
Through little pink and blue shiny ribbons
Folding beneath her activity
Mama is waiting for someone
Bent over a book
A man was concerned
It was a great problem
To be a good father
He had never even had dolls
And now he consults the heavens
To learn what it is to love
Someone smaller than he
Papa is waiting for someone

The yarn passes, and passes by again, the needle
With her wrinkled hands
Grandmother knits a little girl’s shawl
Whether she be beautiful or ugly
Does not matter—She has a grandmother to love her
Her white head wilts,
Falls, but is raised again with strength
Because Grandmother is waiting for someone
In a small corner, hidden
Lies a small purse
But here is the old Grandfather
Who, contrary to habit, empties it
And with a sigh slips his pennies into the hand of a shopkeeper
But his face cheers
At the blue and pink and white of the street
For…Grandfather is waiting for someone
Tenderly leaning o’er a wicker cradle
Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, and Father
Contemplate the delicate baby
Who wiggles her pink feet and hands
And her small mouth, so pretty, drawn up in a smile
In the light of a day that does not want to die
On her fawn-colored face an angel wrote “Hope” 
Hope, repeats the Mother with love
Hope, repeats the Father with joy
Hope, murmurs the old Grandfather, Hope
And the old Grandmother exclaims, There is nothing but darkness!
Life is waiting for someone!

AN