The most beautiful work of all

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In 1967, 20-year-old Patti Smith moved to New York and met her "soul mate," Robert Mapplethorpe — a then-aspiring and since-celebrated photographer who quickly became her lover. They lived and worked together for the next 7 years. 22 years later, by which time they had long separated but were still close friends, Robert, 42, passed away after being diagnosed with AIDS.

In the days preceding his death, Patti wrote him the following letter. Sadly, he didn't get a chance to read it.

You can watch Patti Smith reading the letter here.

(Source: Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids; Image: Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe in New York, 1970, via Interview.)

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand, grip it hard, Robert, and don't let go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occured to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti