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By Max Eastman, political sympathizer and friend
Written on the occasion of her death
Isadora Duncan was the last friend I saw when I left Europe this spring. She stood in the little crowd on the platform at the Gare Saint Lazare. I was standing at the car window, laughing and half crying at the sadly funny excitement of people parting with their friends, and suddenly I heard her voice calling my name and "Good-bye!" She raised her hand when I caught sight of her, and stood still with it raised in the air and moving slowly in a serene and strong benediction. A great beam of that energetic and perfectly idealistic light shone out of her eyes to me. She looked very great. She looked like a statue of real liberty.
It made me sad for a long time, because greatness in this little world is sad. Greatness coming to an unhappy end is almost unendurable, and I had felt that Isadora was coming to an unhappy end. I felt it underneath all the delightful bubbling of her mirth when I saw her during the winter in Cannes. It was at the house of our friend Lucien Monod, a Communist and an artist. She had just received a cablegram that money would be forwarded for her memoirs, and she was full of laughing joy--that wild, reckless, witty joy that all her friends remember. Isadora could sprinkle the whole world with her wit and make it shine.
Isadora Duncan was one of the great men and women--more indubitably so, I think, than any other artist who has lived in our time. They speak of Duse and Sarah Bernhardt and Isadora as a trio of great women, but Isadora was incomparably above the other two. She was not only a supreme artist as they were, endowed by nature with momentous power and the perfect gift of restraining it, but she was also a great mind and a moral force. She used her momentous power, as the giants of mankind have always done, not only to entertain the world but to move it.
And she did move it. It is needless to tell how she changed the art of dancing. She was a revolution in that art, and so to some extent in the whole art of theater. All the civilized world acclaimed her, and recognized in that young brave girl's beautiful body, running barefoot and half-naked, running and bending and pausing and floating in a stream of music, as though the music had formed out of its own passion a visible spirit to live for a moment and die when it died--all the world recognized in that an artistic revolution, an apparition of creative genius, and not merely an achievement in the established art of the dance.
But I think few people realized how far beyond the realm of art--how far out and how deep into the moral and social life of our times--the influence of Isadora Duncan's dancing extended. All the bare-legged girls, and the poised and natural girls with strong muscles and strong, free steps wherever they go--they all owe more to Isadora Duncan than to any other person. And the boys, too, they have a chance to be unafraid of beauty, to be unafraid of the natural life and free aspiration of an intelligent animal walking on the earth--all who have in any measure escaped from the rigidity and ritual of our national religion of negation, all of them owe an immeasurable debt to Isadora Duncan's dancing. She did not only go back into the past to Athens to find that voluntary restraint in freedom that made her dancing an event in the history of art. She went forward into the future--farther, I suppose, than Athens--to a time when man shall be cured altogether of civilization, and return, with immunity to that disease if with few other blessings, to his natural home outdoors on the green surface of the earth. That made her dancing an event in the history of life.
Isadora was exiled--banished by more than an accident of the marriage law--from America. But nevertheless Isadora was very American. The big way in which she conceived things, and undertook them, and the way she succeeded with them, was American. Even her faults were American--her passion for "pulling off stunts"--"gestures" is the way she would say it--was American. She made a grand sport of her public position and character. She played with publicity like a humorous Barnum. Even her extravagant and really bad irresponsibility, which went almost to the point of madness in later years, was in the reverse sense an American trait. It was an exaggerated reaction against America's "righteousness." Wrongtiousness is what you would have to call it if you wished to appraise it with a sense of its origin.
America fighting the battle with Americanism--that was Isadora. From that battle incomparable things are to come--things that will startle and teach the world. And Isadora led the way into the fight all alone, with her naked and strong body and her bold character, vivid as an Amazon. If America triumphs over greed and prudery, intellectual and moral cowardice, Isadora Duncan will be sculptured in bronze at the gate of the Temple of Man in the new day that will dawn. She will stand there, poised in terrible impatience, knee raised and arms tensely extended as in the March Militaire of the Scythian warrior's dance--beautiful--a militant and mighty woman, the symbol and the veritable leader of those who put on their courage like armor and fought for the affirmation of life in America.
From the Hardcover edition.