Have we solved the mystery of who wrote the popular poem attributed to Anais Nin, known as “Risk”?
I can say this: Since posting this mystery a few years ago, nowhere has its source been found in any of Anais Nin’s oeuvre. So how did it come to be attributed to her?
That remains a mystery.
However, Elizabeth Appell has come forward with a compelling case that may hold the answer of who, if not Anais, actually wrote the poem:
What I’m about to tell you is going to seem strange and maybe even impossible, but it is the truth. I wrote the quote, “And the day came when the risk to remain closed in a bud became more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”
I wrote it in 1979. I was Director of Public Relations for John F. Kennedy University in Orinda. One of my responsibilities was to write, edit, and publish the class schedule which included events, news, and class information for the up-coming quarter. The target market for the university was and still is, adults going back to school. Every quarter I came up with a theme meant to inspire and motivate.
I believe it was January when I started on the spring schedule. Up against a deadline, I quickly jotted down the line, and shared it by my colleague, Jerry Skibbins, Vice President of Development. He liked it so we ran with it. Consequently it went out to thousands of households in the East Bay. We also published a poster and put it on BART trains. This was a very wide distribution. As far as I know, attribution was given to the artists who illustrated the designs, but I never thought to attribute myself regarding the poem. My name appeared only as “Editor.”
Another wrinkle: at the time I was using my nickname, “Lassie” as well as my first husband’s last name, Benton. I was known as Lassie Benton. Since then I gave up the nickname to use my given name, Elizabeth, and remarried Allen Appell, hence Elizabeth Appell.
From the beginning the school got a huge response from the poem. I started seeing it woven into tapestries, and then printed on posters, cards and in books. At first the attribution was “Lassie Benton.” One afternoon I attended a calligraphy show at the San Francisco Library. There was the poem, but now the attribution was “Anonymous.” Sometime in the 80’s I found a card using the poem. I bought because it was attributed to Anais Nin. I wrote to the publisher of the card, but received no response. I just let it go.
Recently I gave a reading in Nevada City, California as a part of a women’s writing salon. The woman who read before me began her piece with the poem. I smiled. “What do you know, it still lives.” She was shocked when I told her I’d written it. She suggested I Google the poem to see that always it is attributed to Anais Nin. I did. I am astounded at how it has proliferated the internet, almost always attributed to Anais Nin.
I say almost because I found a life coach in Arizona who uses the poem on her home page. There it is attributed to “Lassie Benton.” She tells me her web page went up in 2006, but she can’t remember where she found the poem.
Yesterday two of my friends brought me copies of their newly published books. Yes, in both books, up front, there it is. The poem. And of course it’s attributed to Anais Nin. That pushed me over to take action.
I wrote the poem in 1979. I am the author of the poem. I’m extremely honored to have written something that has touched so many people.
Elizabeth kindly produced the 1979 brochure on which the poem is printed, as seen above. Judge for yourselves, folks, but it seems that this mystery may be solved.
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Mystery #1: What is the source of one Anaïs Nin’s most popular quotes: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”?
Clues: In Nin’s novel Children of the Albatross (1947) which is incorporated into Cities of the Interior, there is a scene in which the character Djuna (based on Nin), having just made love to Paul (based on the seventeen-year-old Bill Pinckard), sees a vase of closed tulips on a table:
She looked at the tulips so hermetically closed, like secret poems, like the secrets of the flesh. Her hands took each tulip, the ordinary tulip of everyday living and she slowly opened them, petal by petal, opened them tenderly.
They were changed from plain to exotic flowers, from closed secrets to open flowering.
Then she heard Paul say: “Don’t do that!”
There was a great anxiety in his voice. He repeated: “Don’t do that!”
She felt a great stab of anxiety. Why was he so disturbed?
She looked at the flowers. She looked at Paul’s face lying on the pillow, clouded with anxiety, and she was struck with fear. Too soon. She had opened him to love too soon! She had forced time, as she had forced the flowers to change from the ordinary to the extraordinary. He was not ready! (Cities of the Interior 180-1)
Was the quote drawn from this passage? Nowhere in Nin’s fiction am I, or anyone else I know, able to find the verbatim quote, which seems to be a distillation of the above. I have seen it cited on the internet as a “poem” entitled “Risk,” but nowhere in Nin’s bibliography (as far as I know) can such a poem be found. Was the “poem” even written by Nin, or was someone else involved? No one seems to definitively answer this question.
A couple more clues: William Pinckard appears in Diary 4 under the pseudonym of “Leonard.” Also, there is a passage in the unpublished diary of 1946 that closely resembles the passage from The Children of the Albatross.
Perhaps you can help unlock this mystery. If you have any information or ideas, please leave a comment. We will follow all reasonable leads.
PLEASE NOTE: Have we solved the mystery? Click HERE to see.