There Rose a Tree

Photo by George Platt-Lynes



„Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr.
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der verschweigung
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.

Tiere aus Stille drangen aus dem klaren
gelösten wald von Lager und Genist;
und da ergab sich, daß sie nicht aus List
und nicht aus Angst in sich so leise waren,

sondern aus Hören. Brüllen, Schrei, Geröhr
schien klein in ihren Herzen. Und wo eben
kaum eine Hütte war, dies zu empfangen,

ein Unterschlupf aus dunkelstem Verlangen
mit einem Zugang, dessen Pfosten beben, –
da schufst du ihnen Tempel im Gehör.“

Rainer Maria Rilke

Die Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus)





“There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O tall tree in the ear!
And all was silent. Yet still in this silence
proceeded new beginning, sign and transformation.

Creatures of stillness pressed out of the clear
unravelled forest from lair and nest;
and it came to pass, that not by cunning
and not out of fear were they made so quiet,

but simply out of hearing. Bellow, scream, roar
seemed small in their hearts. And just where
there was scarcely a hut to receive this,

a shelter of darkest longing
with an entrance, whose posts shook, –
you built for them a temple in hearing.”

The First Sodomite

Der Tod des Orpheus,(The Death of Orpheus), Ferraresischer Meister, 1470 -1490


Der Tod des Orpheus, Albrecht Dürer, 1494


In this Albrecht Dürer‘s 1494 drawing, the banner hung in the tree reads: Orfeus der erst puseran (“Orpheus, the first sodomite”). The word puseran(t) derives from the Italian “buggerone”, which in its turn derives from Latin “bulgarus” from which come also the terms “bugger” in English and “bougre” in French. Though the drawing could be taken as a Northern European reaction to sodomy, it is actually based on an original, now lost, by the Florentine Italian master Andrea Mantegna.

Greek mythological figure, the son of the muse Calliope, noted for his magical art in music and poetry. Whether Orpheus was a historical personality is disputed, but if so he lived in the generation before the Trojan War, therefore in the thirteenth century B.C. Orpheus in Antiquity. A number of important aspects of the career of Orpheus are recounted by ancient Greek writers. Of Thracian origin, Orpheus possessed musical skill that could enchant animals and plants and cause them to do his will. Trees would transplant themselves for him, while birds and even fish gathered to hear his song. As a member of the expedition of the Argonauts, he beat time for the rowers and stilled harsh winds.

When his wife Eurydice died of the bite of a poisonous snake and was taken to Hades, Orpheus obtained her release by giving a concert for the ruler of the Underworld. Warned not to look at Euridice on the trip home, Orpheus yielded to temptation and lost her forever. Orpheus then gathered around him a group of Thracian young men, to whom he introduced the new practice of pederasty. Greek vase paintings show this ephebic entourage enchanted by the splendors of his song. Yet Orpheus’ influence provoked resentment among the forsaken female companions of his new lovers. The women-sometimes identified with the maenads of the Dionysiac cult-ganged up on him, attacking the musician with spears, axes, and stones. Orpheus was dismembered, his head separated from the rest. Eventually the head floated away, still singing, together with his lyre. Orpheus’ head washed ashore on the island of Lesbos, where it received the honor of a shrine. The shrine could still be visited in ancient times, and reputedly the head might be heard faintly singing. Some scribes claimed to have taken down the words, which then presumably provided the texts for the Orphic hymns. Around these hymns developed a religious cult, Orphism, whose role and significance are still the object of debate by historians. Most images of Orpheus in Greek and Roman art are either representative depictions of him as singer or dramatic scenes of his later career-his leadership of the male band in Thrace, his death, and the survival of the head. These last events were important to the Greeks not only because they laid the foundation for his influence after death, but because he was regarded as the inventor of pederasty. Although he was not the only candidate for this honor, his nomination reflects the Greek penchant for attributing significant cultural achievements to particular individuals. The Eurydice episode, which in modern consciousness has become virtually synonymous with Orpheus, was less important to the Greeks, and may even be a later grafting onto the earlier torso of legend.

Hôtel Biron

Auguste Rodin photographed on the steps of the Hôtel Biron, Paris

First opened to the public on 4 August 1919, the Musée Rodin was housed in a mansion, formerly called the Hôtel Peyrenc de Moras. Now known as the Hôtel Biron, it was built in the Rue de Varenne, Paris, between 1727 and 1732.


Elevation of the façade of Mrs. De Moras’s mansion on the garden side


 L’Hôtel Biron, côté jardin, Charles Berthelomier, circa 1910


The estate was put up for sale and while awaiting a buyer, tenants were allowed to occupy the Hôtel Biron from 1905. Among them were several artists, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963),  Henri Matisse, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the sculptress Clara Westhoff (1878-1954), future wife of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1921), who first told Auguste Rodin about the estate. In 1908, the sculptor thus rented four south-facing, ground-floor rooms opening onto the terrace, to use as his studios. The garden that had run wild probably made a strong impression on Rodin, encouraging him to place some of his works and part of his collection of antiques amidst its greenery. From 1911 onwards, he occupied the entire building.

Listed as a historical monument in 1926, the Hôtel Biron and its grounds have since undergone major renovation and restoration schemes, to better assert their role as a museum.


Under So Many Lids

Rainer Maria Rilke


A myth developed surrounding  Rainer Maria Rilke‘s death and roses. It was said: “To honour a visitor, the Egyptian beauty Nimet Eloui, Rilke gathered some roses from his garden. While doing so, he pricked his hand on a thorn. This small wound failed to heal, grew rapidly worse, soon his entire arm was swollen, and his other arm became affected as well”, and so he died


Grave of Rainer Maria Rilke at the Churchyard in Raron, Swizerland


Rilke chose both his own gravesite and epitaph. He is buried where one can see both German-speaking villages and land where the main language is French. Late in his life Rilke began writing in French, so this burial site at the edge of his German-speaking world suits his writing well. So does the blend of vastness and intimacy that so nearly reflects the quality of Rilke’s own poetic voice.

Rilke’s epitaph speaks on so many levels that the best translation I can offer is an excavation of its layers, admittedly a bit like trying to explain away a superbly nuanced joke. His epitaph is also an extraordinary feat of verbal condensation. The German word for poetry suggests that a poet’s task is to condense (‘Dichtung’ derives from the root ‘dicht’ meaning dense). Rilke’s epitaph does just that. It reads:

“Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust,
niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel

(“Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being no-one’s sleep under so many

Rilke here compares rose petals to eyelids, and remarks that unlike eyelids, the petals conceal no desire for sleep. But the word for eyelids (Lidern) happens to sound exactly like the German word for songs (Liedern), so this pun in sound also lets him say that beneath his many songs there is no desire to be anyone’s sleep.

the epitaph refrains from saying that the rose (or the poet) desires no sleep for itself alone. Instead it says it does not want to be anyone’s sleep. So Rilke’s desire may be for a general awakening, not just his own.

The Roses as Sentimental Despair


The Rose VI and The Rose V, Cy Twombly, 2008



“Infinitely at ease
despite so many risks,
with no variation
of her usual routine,
the blooming rose is the omen
of her immeasurable endurance.

Do we know how she survives?
No doubt one of her days
is all the earth and all
of our infinity.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from French by A. Poulin Jr.


The Rose series recall Cy Twombly‘s earlier cycle of paintings, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair (1985), which also referred to quotations by Rilke, as well as Rumi and Giacomo Leopardi, embracing conceptions of nature dominated by its inevitable demise. Twombly’s ardent, bold, and often flamboyant use of colour has other affinities — with Andy Warhol‘s Flower series, for example, or Henri Matisse‘s late paper cut-outs. But just as the rose recurs throughout Rilke’s work as a memento mori, so does Twombly employ the motifs and conditions of the natural world to allude to the pleasure and transience of life.

When Happiness Falls

The Cat of La Méditerranée, Balthus, 1949


“…siehe, sie zeigten vielleicht auf die Kätzchen der leeren
Hasel, die hängenden, oder
meinten den Regen, der fällt auf dunkles Erdreich im Frühjahr. –

Und wir, die an steigendes Glück
denken, empfänden die Rührung,
die uns beinah bestürzt,
wenn ein Glückliches fällt.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
Duineser Elegien
Kapitel 10 (Excerpt)



“…And yet, were they waking a likeness within us, the endlessly dead,
look, they’d be pointing, perhaps, to the catkins, hanging
from empty hazels, or else they’d be meaning the rain
that falls on the dark earth in the early Spring.

And we, who have always thought
of happiness climbing, would feel
the emotion that almost startles
when happiness falls.”

Excerpt of The Tenth Elegy

The Experience of Loving

“The experience of loving, that now disappoints so many, can actually change and be transformed from the ground up into the building of a relationship between two human beings, not just a man and a woman. And this more authentic love will be evident in the utterly considerate, gentle, and clear manner of its binding and releasing. It will resemble what we now struggle to prepare: the love that consists of two solitudes which border, protect, and greet each other.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rome, May 14, 1904

Letters to a Young Poet


Adam and Steve, photo (supposedly) by Johnny Willough

The Original Poet


In the Garden of Eden Adam’s first task was to give everything a name. Whenever God created a new animal or plant, he showed it to Adam and, according to the Book of Genesis, “whatever he called each living creature, that was its name.” In the variant version of the Koran, God “taught Adam all the names.” The biblical Adam is the original poet, capturing the essence of a thing in words. His Koranic counterpart is more of a decipherer, discerning the secret nature of things through the word hidden inside them. In both instances, the conferral of names is a human prerogative; a thing remains unknowable until a human voice sounds out its distinctive moniker. Even God needs Adam to give names the breath of life.

Until recently that Edenic innocence still existed between things and their names. In the ninth Duino Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke could ask:

“Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House,Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window—possibly: Pillar, Tower?”

Of course for Rilke this isn’t just mouthing names but involves “such saying as never the things themselves / hoped so intensely to be.” In his view, things, when invoked, if not conjured, become more fully themselves. This is a magical notion, and a deeply appealing one, but can anyone still believe in it?

This observation about Rilke suggests something of his complex nature, since he was a great realist. He wrote, “How good life is. How fair, how incorruptible, how impossible to deceive: not even by strength, not even by willpower, and not even by courage. How everything remains what it is and has only this choice: to come true, or to exaggerate and push too far.”

His realist approach to life and his artistic temperament contributed to his non-conventional approach to the Bible.

Rilke wasn’t a practitioner of Christianity, (he preferred Islam) yet much of his work deals with religion. He wrote: “Religion is something infinitely simple, ingenuous. It is not knowledge, not content of feeling (for all content is admitted from the start, where a man comes to terms with life), it is not duty and not renunciation, it is not restriction: but in the infinite extent of the universe it is a direction of the heart.” (Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke)

I Am, You Anxious One

Dream, M.C. Escher, 1935



“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.”

Over the Short Grass


“Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irai dans les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue :
Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.

Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien :
Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme,
Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la nature, heureux comme avec une femme.”

Arthur Rimbaud

Mars 1870




“On the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths,
And walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat:
Daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet.
I will let the wind bathe my bare head. I will not speak,
I will have no thoughts: But infinite love will mount in my soul;
And I will go far, far off, like a gypsy,
through the countryside – as happy as if I were a woman.”


Holland, David Thewlis and Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of Total Eclipse (Agnieszka Holland, 1995)

A Horse Takes Off

Self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe in front of his cover for Patti Smith’s Horses, c. 1975




Les calculs de côté, l’inévitable descente du ciel, et la visite des souvenirs et la séance des rythmes occupent la demeure, la tête et le monde de l’esprit.

– Un cheval détale sur le turf suburbain, et le long des cultures et des boisements, percé par la peste carbonique. Une misérable femme de drame, quelque part dans le monde, soupire après des abandons improbables. Les desperadoes languissent après l’orage, l’ivresse et les blessures. De petits enfants étouffent des malédictions le long des rivières. –

Reprenons l’étude au bruit de l’oeuvre dévorante qui se rassemble et remonte dans les masses.

Arthur Rimbaud

Illuminations XLI: Jeunesse






Problems aside, the inevitable descent from the sky and the visit of memories and the gathering of rhythms occupy the dwelling, the head and the world of the mind.

– A horse takes off on the suburban turf past the fields and woodlands, riddled with carbonic plague. A wretched woman in some drama, somewhere in the world, sighs for improbable abandonment. Desperadoes long for storms, drunkenness and wounds. Little children stifle curses beside the rivers.

Let us resume our studies to the sound of the all-consuming work that gathers and rises among the masses.

16 Poems

© Hereus de Roberto Bolaño. Barcelona (Spain), 1981


“…31. Soñé que la tierra se acababa. Y que el único ser humano que contemplaba el final era Franz Kafka. En el cielo los Titanes luchaban a muerte. Desde un asiento de hierro forjado del parque de Nueva York veía arder el mundo.

32. Soñé que estaba soñando y que volvía a mi casa demasiado tarde. En mi cama encontraba a Mario de Sá-Carneiro durmiendo con mi primer amor. Al destaparlos descubría que estaban muertos y mordiéndome los labios hasta hacerme sangre volvía a los caminos vecinales.

33. Soñé que Anacreonte construía su castillo en la cima de una colina pelada y luego lo destruía.

34. Soñé que era un detective latinoamericano muy viejo. Vivía en NuevaYork y Mark Twain me contrataba para salvarle la vida a alguien que no tenía rostro. Va a ser un caso condenadamente difícil, señor Twain, le decía.

35. Soñé que me enamoraba de Alice Sheldon. Ella no me quería. Así que intentaba hacerme matar en tres continentes. Pasaban los años. Por fin, cuando ya era muy viejo, ella aparecía por el otro extremo del Paseo Marítimo de Nueva York y mediante señas (como las que hacían en los portaaviones para que los pilotos aterrizaran) me decía que siempre me había querido.

36. Soñé que hacía un 69 con Anaïs Nin sobre una enorme losa de basalto.

37. Soñé que follaba con Carson McCullers en una habitación en penumbras en la primavera de 1981. Y los dos nos sentíamos irracionalmente felices.

38. Soñé que volvía a mi viejo Liceo y que Alphonse Daudet era mi profesor de francés. Algo imperceptible nos indicaba que estábamos soñando. Daudet miraba a cada rato por la ventana y fumaba la pipa de Tartarín.

39. Soñé que me quedaba dormido mientras mis compañeros de Liceo intentaban liberar a Robert Desnos del campo de concentración de Terezin. Cuando despertaba una voz me ordenaba que me pusiera en movimiento. Rápido, Bolaño, rápido, no hay tiempo que perder. Al llegar sólo encontraba a un vieoj detective escarbando en las ruinas humeantes del asalto.

40. Soñé que una tormenta de números fantasmales era lo único que quedaba de los seres humanos tres mil millones de años después de que la Tierra hubiera dejado de existir.

41. Soñé que estaba soñando y que en los túneles de los sueños encontraba el sueño de Roque Dalton: el sueño de los valientes que murieron por una quimera de mierda.

42. Soñé que tenía dieciocho años y que veía a mi mejor amigo de entonces, que también tenía dieciocho, haciendo el amor con Walt Whitman. Lo hacían en un sillón, contemplando el atardecer borrascoso de Civitavecchia.

43. Soñé que estaba preso y que Boecio era mi compañero de celda. Mira, Bolaño, decía extendiendo la mano y la pluma en la semioscuridad: ¡no tiemblan!, ¡no tiemblan! (Después de un rato, añadía con voz tranquila: pero tamblarán cuando reconozcan al cabrón de Teodorico.)

44. Soñé que traducía al Marqués de Sade a golpes de hacha. Me había vuelto loco y vivía en un bosque.

45. Soñé que Pascal hablaba del miedo con palabras cristalinas en una taberna de Civitavecchia: “Los milagros no sirven para convertir, sino para condenar”, decía.

46. Soñé que era un viejo detective latinoamericano y que una Fundación misteriosa me encargaba encontrar las actas de defunción de los Sudacas Voladores. Viajaba por todo el mundo: hospitales, campos de batalla, pulquerías, escuelas abandonadas…”

Roberto Bolaño

Blanes, 1994

Tres (Fragmento de una colección de poemas)




…”31. I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only
human being to contemplate the end was Franz
Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the
death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park,
Kafka was watching the world burn.

32. I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home
too late. In my bed I found Mário de Sá-Carneiro
sleeping with my first love. When I uncovered them
I found they were dead and, biting my lips till they
bled, I went back to the streets.

33. I dreamt that Anacreon was building his castle
on the top of a barren hill and then destroying it.

34. I dreamt I was a really old Latin American
detective. I lived in New York and Mark Twain
was hiring me to save the life of someone without
a face. “It’s going to be a damn tough case, Mr.
Twain,” I told him.

35. I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon.
She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed
on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I
was really old, she appeared on the other end of the
promenade in New York and with signals (like the
ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots
land) she told me she’d always loved me.

36. I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin on an
enormous basaltic flagstone.

37. I dreamt I was fucking Carson McCullers in a
dim-lit room in the spring of 1981. And we both felt
irrationally happy.

38. I dreamt I was back at my old high school
and Alphonse Daudet was my French teacher.
Something imperceptible made us realize we were
dreaming. Daudet kept looking out the window
and smoking Tartarin’s pipe

39. I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates
tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín
concentration camp. When I woke a voice was
telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick,
there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I
found was an old detective picking through the
smoking ruins of the attack.

40. I dreamt that a storm of phantom numbers was
the only thing left of human beings three billion
years after Earth ceased to exist.

41. I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream
tunnels i found Roque Dalton’s dream: the dream
of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera.

42. I dreamt I was 18 and saw my best friend at
the time, who was also 18, making love to Walt
Whitman. They did it in an armchair, contemplating
the stormy Civitavecchia sunset.

43. I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was
my cellmate. “look, Bolaño,” he said, extending
his hand and his pen in the shadows:
“they’re not trembling! they’re not
trembling!” (after a while,
he added in a calm voice: “but they’ll tremble when
they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)

44. I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade
with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the

45. I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with
crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia:
Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.

46. I dreamt I was an old Latin American detective
and a mysterious Foundation hired me to find the
death certificates of the Flying Spics. I was traveling
all around the world: hospitals, battlefields, pulque
bars, abandoned schools….”

Excerpt from Tres (a collection of poetry)

English translation by Laura Healy

The Illusion of Depth

Concept and design by Storm Thorgerson


The sleeve of the Alan Parsons album Try Anything Once recalls at least two recurring elements of Magritte’s works, the man with the hat and the white sphere.


The Ignorant Fairy (1950)


Golconde (1953)


There is an easter egg inside the inlay. One of the pictures is a stereogram; when the viewer looks at it correctly, an image of a man and woman upside down will appear, similar to the other pictures in the album’s artwork.

Stereoscopy (also called stereoscopics or 3D imaging) is a technique for creating or enhancing the illusion of depth in an image by means of stereopsis for binocular vision. The word stereoscopy derives from Greek στερεός (stereos), meaning “firm, solid”, and σκοπέω (skopeō), meaning “to look, to see”. Any stereoscopic image is called stereogram. Originally, stereogram referred to a pair of stereo images which could be viewed using a stereoscope. Magritte made several studies of stereograms in some paintings (for instance, Man with a Newspaper, The Menaced Assassin, A Taste of the Invisible, Portrait of Paul Nouge, and many others).