After half a century of tactful waiting, my mother gave me the diaries and letters my father kept, and wrote home, from Australia. She had never looked into any of them, out of respect for my father’s privacy.
Reading those notebooks was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One day, I found the above pencil drawing in one of them, along with a poem by Matthew Arnold. It shows my father’s first wife Aenne Kappius née Ebbert, and was made in 1942 after a photo my father had of her. Robert F. Braun drew it while he and my father were interned together in Tatura, Vic., Australia. My father mentioned the drawing in one of his letters, and he also mentioned a drawing of himself that Robert had done and that he was sending to his wife – she was in exile in Switzerland at the time -, but it, unfortunately, is lost.
Even without the personal story behind it, I find the drawing a wonderful piece of art, and somewhat haunting. Below is the poem my father obviously thought worth copying out. It must have reminded him of, or connected him to his first wife Aenne.
by Matthew Arnold
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards o’er the starlit sea.
And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
“Ye who from my childhood up have calmed me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!
“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”
From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou BE as these are? LIVE as they.
“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.
“And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silvered roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.
“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.”
O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he
Who finds himself loses his misery!”