Dear Mr. Seligmann,
It is very pleasant to be reminded, after so many years, of the sympathy which existed between us when we were teacher and pupil; and I am glad to see that the Firebird that was then already stirring within you has not been smothered by the pressure of circumstances. I remember that your mother secretly wrote to me—I suppose after twenty years or more that secret need not be kept—to express her anxiety about your temperament and inclinations: she feared perhaps that you might be unhappy in the world. I judge by certain indications in this little book that the world has not been too unkind: yet you seem, at bottom, not to be very much interested in it, only in images and in a certain spiritual freedom which transcends all accidental facts. Images, sensual and atmospheric, can’t be well described in words, and you are troubled like all contemporary poets, by a medium which is inappropriate, and of which you haven’t an adequate command: because language is a splendid medium in itself, if you are an artist in it, and if your interests are dramatic or intellectual: but pure images rather require to be preserved in painting or created by music. Your verses, in this direction, are simply so many proofs that images do arrest you, and that things and events do not: there is a philosophy for you, and a characteristically modern one. It is well expressed in your “Brooklyn Bridge”: but it seems to me that, for a poet, this is rather a confession of impotence; because the world if mastered and exploited humanly, ought to be far more interesting to the mind and heart than sensuous images which remain meaningless. When I came to the Firebird proper, at first I supposed that of course it was Love; but after reading, it seemed rather to be Truth: in any case, here is the spirit passing beyond the images and the facts into some abyss where it feels more at home. Every one has his own way of feeling and expressing these ultimate things, but there is much unanimity among mystics of all ages and religions, and we shouldn’t quarrel about vehicles and accidents when it is precisely accidents and vehicles that we wish to transcend. Thank you for remembering me: you see I haven’t forgotten you.
From The Letters of George Santayana: Book Four, 1928–1932. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York NY