“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Carved in stone and still covered in toolmarks,The Cathedral is a combination of two right hands, belonging to two different figures. It was entitled The Ark of the Covenant, before being named The Cathedral, very probably after the publication of Auguste Rodin’s Les Cathédrales de France, in 1914. Parallels may be drawn between the mysterious inner space that seems to emanate from the composition and Gothic architecture. Emptiness was a factor that Rodin used to allow for, and, as Rainer Maria Rilke pointed out, “the role of air had always been extremely important” for him (Rilke, 1928).
Very similar to The Secret, this work belongs to the series carved in marble, most frequently after 1900, such as The Hand of God, The Hand of the Devil, Hands of Lovers and Hand from the Tomb. But, more broadly, it emphasizes Rodin’s fondness and passion for these hands, which he isolated, like the fragments in his collection of Antiques, in order to give them a more finished and autonomous form.
Les Vacances de Hegel (Hegel’s Holiday), René Magritte, 1958
ICH BETE WIEDER, DU ERLAUCHTER
Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter,
du hörst mich wieder durch den Wind,
weil meine Tiefen nie gebrauchter
rauschender Worte mächtig sind.
Ich war zerstreut; an Widersacher
in Stücken war verteilt mein Ich.
O Gott, mich lachten alle Lacher,
und alle Trinker tranken mich
I pray again, you Illustrious One;
do you hear me again through the wind
because from my unused depths
mighty words are rushing.
I was dispersed; to the adversary
my self was given in pieces.
O God, I laughed all laughter,
and all drunkards drank me.
Ich war ein Haus nach einem Brand,
darin nur Mörder manchmal schlafen,
eh ihre hungerigen Strafen
sie weiterjagen in das Land;
ich war wie eine Stadt am Meer,
wenn eine Seuche sie bedrängte,
die sich wie eine Leiche schwer
den Kindern in die Hände hängte.
I was a house after a fire,
where only murderers sometimes sleep,
and their hungry punishments
pursue them through the land;
I was like a city on the sea,
pressed by a plague,
which like a heavy corpse
hung the children in the hands.
Ich war mir fremd wie irgendwer
und wußte nur von ihm, daß er
einst meine junge Mutter kränkte,
als sie mich trug,
und daß ihr Herz, das eingeengte,
sehr schmerzhaft an mein Keimen schlug.
I was a stranger to myself as one
of whom I knew only that he
once offended my young mother
as she carried me
and that her heart, thus constricted,
throbbed achingly about my sprouting self.
Jetzt bin ich wieder aufgebaut
aus allen Stücken meiner Schande
und sehne mich nach einem Bande,
nach einem einigen Verstande,
der mich wie ein Ding überschaut, –
nach deines Herzens großen Händen –
(o kämen sie doch auf mich zu)ich zähle mich, mein Gott, und du,
du hast das Recht, mich zu verschwenden.
Now I am rebuilt
from all the pieces of my shame
and yearn for a bond,
for a unified understanding,
which regards me as one thing
– as I yearn for the big hands of your Heart [to
(oh, let them draw near me)
I count myself, my God, and you,
You have the right, to waste me.
Rainer Maria Rilke
From The Book of Hours
Translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
ICH BIN, DU ÄNGSTLICHER
“Ich bin, du Ängstlicher. Hörst du mich nicht
mit allen meinen Sinnen an dir branden?
Meine Gefühle, welche Flügel fanden,
umkreisen weiß dein Angesicht.
Siehst du nicht meine Seele, wie sie dicht
vor dir in einem Kleid aus Stille steht?
Reift nicht mein mailiches Gebet
an deinem Blicke wie an einem Baum?
Wenn du der Träumer bist, bin ich dein Traum.
Doch wenn du wachen willst, bin ich dein Wille
und werde mächtig aller Herrlichkeit
und ründe mich wie eine Sternenstille
über der wunderlichen Stadt der Zeit…”
Rainer Maria Rilke
“I am, you anxious one. Do you not hear me
with all my senses rush to claim you?
My feelings, which have found wings,
spin whitely about your countenance.
See you not my soul, how close it stands
in front of you in a garment of stillness?
Does not my Maytime prayer ripen
in your glance as upon a tree?
When you the dreamer be, I am your dream.
If only you would wake, I’d be your will,
and become master of all splendor
and I grow to a sphere, I am like still stars,
over the singular City of Time.”
LÖSCH MIR DIE AUGEN AUS
“Lösch mir die Augen aus: ich kann dich sehn,
wirf mir die Ohren zu: ich kann dich hören,
und ohne Füße kann ich zu dir gehn,
und ohne Mund noch kann ich dich beschwören.
Brich mir die Arme ab, ich fasse dich
mit meinem Herzen wie mit einer Hand,
halt mir das Herz zu, und mein Hirn wird schlagen,
und wirfst du in mein Hirn den Brand,
so werd ich dich auf meinem Blute tragen.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
From Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours)
“Put out my eyes, and I can see you still,
Slam my ears to, and I can hear you yet;
And without any feet can go to you;
And tongueless, I can conjure you at will.
Break off my arms, I shall take hold of you
And grasp you with my heart as with a hand;
Arrest my heart, my brain will beat as true;
And if you set this brain of mine afire,
Then on my blood-stream I yet will carry you.”
Translation from German by Babette Deutsch
Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours) was written between 1899 and 1903 in three parts, and first published in Leipzig by Insel Verlag in April 1905. With its dreamy, melodic expression and neo-Romantic mood, it stands, along with ‘The Lay of the Love and Death of Christoph Cornet’, as the most important of Rainer Maria Rilke‘s early works.
The work, dedicated to Lou Andreas-Salome, is his first through-composed cycle, which established his reputation as a religious poet, culminating in the poet’s Duino Elegies.
In arresting language, using a turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau aesthetic, Rilke displayed a wide range of his poetic apparatus. The suggestive musicality of his verses developed into the hallmark of his later lyric poetry, to mixed criticism.
It consists of three sections with common themes relating to St. Francis and the Christian search for God.
The sections are:
*The Book of Monastic Life (Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben)
*The Book of Pilgrimage (Das Buch von der Pilgerschaft)
*The Book of Poverty and Death (Das Buch von der Armut und vom Tode)
The collective title comes from the book of hours, a type of illuminated breviary popular in France in the later Middle Ages. These prayer and worship books were often decorated with illumination and so combined religious edification with art. They contained prayers for different times of the day and were designed to structure the day through regular devotion to God.
The work is influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and contemporaneous philosophical ideas, and shows Rilke’s search for a meaningful basis for living, which he identifies as a pantheistic God.
Rilke’s journeys to Russia in the summer of 1899 and 1900 form the biographical background to the work. He undertook these with Lou Andreas-Salome, and began work on the cycle after their conclusion. The vastness of Russia, the fervent devotion of its peasantry to their Orthodox religion, and its culture little touched by Western civilization – all formed a backdrop which, deepened by personal encounters with Leonid Pasternak and the renowned Leo Tolstoy, developed over time into a spiritual home. As he wrote retrospectively twenty years later, the country had revealed to him “the brotherhood and the darkness of God”.
Allen Ginsberg and Philp Whalen, in Allen’s East 12th St apartment, New York City 1984
Allen Ginsberg: I (know) a couple of lines (of German) – ” Du bist wie eine Blume/so..schon und..” (Heinrich Heine)
Philip Whalen: I’d like to take the Rilke out of .. as much German as I’ve absorbed, totally out of the air, and out of the imagination, and what-not, to look at The Duino Elegies and so on, and get some comfort and charm out of the sound of the things as they go by. But, as far (as).. if you asked me to render a single line, I’d be.. I might recognize some lone word, or something like that, but otherwise, I’d be totally flummoxed, I wouldn’t have any idea.
I do the same thing with Lorca. Although I can guess better at Lorca because it’s nearer to a Latin trip, but I enjoy looking at the Lorca texts in Spanish. But we all learn from the same people. From Rilke and Lorca and Thomas Mann and from (Marcel) Proust, and..
Allen Ginsberg: I never could get much out of Lorca. Just a continuous breath..
Philip Whalen: Oh, there’s a thing about weather..
Allen Ginsberg: …The Duino Elegies, but that’s all.
Philip Whalen: Yeah, but in Lorca, there’s a thing about the smell of things and the shape, the colors of things, and about the weather, about how hot it is and how cold it is, which I find really nice.
Allen Ginsberg: I’ve always seen him as a bad influence on people. They get really.. sad and romantic.
Philip Whalen: It’s very thin, it’s really thin stuff the Lorca materials are, I think, but still they’re very pretty. The Rilke thing is very.. it gets smeary
Allen Ginsberg: I’m sorry. I was talking about Rilke.
Philip Whalen: Well, he tends to smear..
Allen Ginsberg: Yeah.
Philip Whalen: ..as far as I can see. And he’s like Richard Strauss, he gets.. exactly, he gets imprecise and floppy around the edges, and it just gets pretty.. and, I think it’s wonderful that..the greatest thing about Rilke is that he died after picking a rose and getting stuck on one of the thorns. What actually happened was that it turned out that the wound from being poked by this rose-thorn didn’t heal up and he actually had leukemia, but they didn’t know it until right that minute, or a couple of months later, when he still had this hole in him. He was actually dying of leukemia. But it was quite wonderful to be pricked by a rose and die. I always thought more kindly of him on that account.
Philip Whalen: And also when I was in the army, a friend gave me a copy, a little single volume of the Letters To A Young Poet, which I treasured. I really thought that was some of the wisest, most marvelous, most inspiring stuff that anybody ever said about the calling of being a poet.. were these letters that he’d written to..very stuffy, actually.. letters to this young kid who was writing to him about, “How do you be a poet?”, and, “I’m discouraged”, and “Please tell me what to do next?”, and so on. And Rilke wrote these very studied and very careful, very beautiful, replies to him, and I don’t know whether the kid ever amounted to anything, but they..
Allen Ginsberg: No, he didn’t.
Philip Whalen: ..but the replies are much more.. and I do like the prose… the thing I was talking about yesterday, about writing prose with the care of poetry, where the Malte Laurids Brigge‘s right on top, every minute, right now. Right on top of each event, each particle is going by, he’s right there with it. And so it works a lot better than a lot of the poems, except.. I don’t know. That’s quite wonderful where that angel comes in and grabs him in the first Duino Elegy..and says, “Shape up” (and, poor sap, that took him twenty years to shape up there!)
Drawn by some sympathetic note in his poems, young people often wrote to Rilke with their problems and hopes. From 1903 to 1908 Rilke wrote a series of remarkable responses to a young, would-be poet on poetry and on surviving as a sensitive observer in a harsh world. Those letters, still a fresh source of inspiration and insight, are accompanied here by a chronicle of Rilke’s life that shows what he was experiencing in his own relationship to life and work when he wrote them.
May 14, 1904
My dear Mr. Kappus,
Much time has passed since I received your last letter. Please don’t hold that against me; first it was work, then a number of interruptions, and finally poor health that again and again kept me from answering, because I wanted my answer to come to you out of peaceful and happy days. Now I feel somewhat better again (the beginning of spring with its moody, bad-tempered transitions was hard to bear here too) and once again, dear Mr. Kappus, I can greet you and talk to you (which I do with real pleasure) about this and that in response to your letter, as well as I can.
You see: I have copied out your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the shape that it moves in with such quiet decorum. It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read. And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.
It was a pleasure for me to read this sonnet and your letter, often; I thank you for both.
And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is some thing in you that wants to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.
But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.
It is true that many young people who love falsely, i.e., simply surrendering themselves and giving up their solitude (the average person will of course always go on doing that), feel oppressed by their failure and want to make the situation they have landed in livable and fruitful in their own, personal way. For their nature tells them that the questions of love, even more than everything else that is important, cannot be resolved publicly and according to this or that agreement; that they are questions, intimate questions from one human being to another, which in any case require a new, special, wholly personal answer. But how can they, who have already flung themselves together and can no longer tell whose outlines are whose, who thus no longer possess anything of their own, how can they find a way out of themselves, out of the depths of their already buried solitude?
They act out of mutual helplessness, and then if, with the best of intentions, they try to escape the convention that is approaching them (marriage, for example), they fall into the clutches of some less obvious but just as deadly conventional solution. For then everything around them is convention. Wherever people act out of a prematurely fused, muddy communion, every action is conventional: every relation that such confusion leads to has its own convention, how ever unusual (i.e., in the ordinary sense immoral) it may be; even separating would be a conventional step, an impersonal, accidental decision without strength and without fruit.
Whoever looks seriously will find that neither for death, which is difficult, nor for difficult love has any clarification, any solution, any hint of a path been perceived; and for both these tasks, which we carry wrapped up and hand, on without opening, there is no general, agreed-upon rule that can be discovered. But in the same measure in which we begin to test life as individuals, these great Things will come to meet us, the individuals, with greater intimacy. The claims that the difficult work of love makes upon our development are greater than life, and we, as beginners, are not equal to them. But if we nevertheless endure and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in the whole easy and frivolous game behind which people have hidden from the most solemn solemnity of their being, then a small advance and a lightening will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us. That would be much.
We are only just now beginning to consider the relation of one individual to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such relationships have no model before them. And yet in the changes that time has brought about there are already many things that can help our timid novitiate.
The girl and the woman, in their new, individual unfolding, will only in passing be imitators of male behavior and misbehavior and repeaters of male professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions, it will become obvious that women were going through the abundance and variation of those (often ridiculous) disguises just so that they could purify their own essential nature and wash out the deforming influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately , more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it. Someday (and even now, especially in the countries of northern Europe, trustworthy signs are already speaking and shining), someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.
This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman. And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.
And one more thing: Don’t think that the great love which was once granted to you, when you were a boy, has been lost; how can you know whether vast and generous wishes didn’t ripen in you at that time, and purposes by which you are still living today? I believe that that love remains so strong and intense in your memory because it was your first deep aloneness and the first inner work that you did on your life. – All good wishes to you, dear Mr. Kappus!
Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters To a Young Poet
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