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

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Idiom of Improbability

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet

 

La semaine des quatre jeudis (The Week with Four Thursdays), Balthus, 1949

There are many idioms of improbability, used to denote that something is impossible or unlikely to occur. In French the expression “La semaine des quatre jeudis” is traditionally used to mean that the specified even “will happen (or not) during the week of the four Thursdays”, since thursday was the break in the school’s week.

As Something Never Described

The Room, Balthus, c. 1953

 

DIE LIEBENDE

Das ist mein Fenster. Eben
bin ich so sanft erwacht.
Ich dachte, ich würde schweben.
Bis wohin reicht mein Leben,
und wo beginnt die Nacht?
Ich könnte meinen, alles
ware noch Ich ringsum;
durchsichtig wie eines Kristalles
Tiefe, verdunkelt, stumm.
Ich könnte noch auch die Sterne
fassen in mir; so groβ
scheint mir mein Herz; so gerne
lieβ es ihn wieder los
den ich vielleicht zu lieben,
vielleicht zu halten begann.
Fremd, wie nieberschrieben
sieht mich mein Schicksal an.
Was bin ich unter diese
Unendlichkeit gelegt,
duftend wie eine Wiese,
hin und her bewegt,
rufend zugleich und bange,
daβ einer den Ruf vernimmt,
und zum Untergange
in einem Andern bestimmt.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Der neuen Gedichte anderer Teil

1908

 

______________________________________

 

THE LOVERS

“That is my window. A moment ago
I woke up so softly.
I thought I would float.
To where does my life extend,
and where does the night begin?
I could think that everything
were still me all around;
translucent as a crystal’s
depths, darkened, dumb.
I could also contain the stars
inside me still; so large
does my heart appear to me; so gladly
it released him away again.
whom I began perhaps to love,
perhaps began to hold.
Strange, as something never-described
my fate looks at me.
For what am I laid under this
unendingness,
fragrant as a meadow,
moved here and there,
calling out at the same time and afraid
that someone will hear the call,
and determined to find my downfall
in another.

Translation by L. Steve Schmersal

May 2003

This Come from Far Away

Rilke with the painter, Elisabeth Dorothée (Baladine) Klossowska and her son Balthasar (who would become known as the painter Balthus). Picture taken in 1922

 

Baladine Klossowska and her husband Erich Klossowki had first met the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in 1907, the year before Balthus was born. This is who her lover was. When they met he was thirty-two years old, while she was twenty-one. He had been brought to the Klossowskis’ house in Paris by Ellen Key, a Swedish psychologist who had written The Century of the Child, which Rilke had reviewed enthusiastically. Except for an occasion when Baladine and Erich had visited Rilke in his apartment on the Rue Cassette and he had stood at his writing desk and read to them out loud from his Livre d’heures, they had only seen each other once, in a chance meeting when Baladine told the poet that she now had two “ravishing” young sons, until 1919, when Rilke decided to pay a visit to Baladine. Nostalgic for pre-war Paris, he looked up the tall, dark Baladine, whose name was the first in his address book. Having separated from her husband two years earlier, she had moved there to a modest flat. Rilke planned to be in Geneva for five days, but stayed for fifteen.

On one of the rare interludes when they were both staying at Muzot and enjoying a respite from the tumult of their separations, Rainer Maria Rilke and Baladine Klossowska made a journey through the mountains, in the course of which they decided to collaborate on a book in which his poems and her illustrations would appear side by side. Its theme was windows. The slight, elegant volume was not published until 1927, the year after the poet’s death. But with its fifteen poems dedicated to Baladine, and her ten etchings, it preserved the essence of their bond. The women created by Balthus’s mother are all locked in trances. The first. in profile, is framed by window mullions. Fixing her hair, she is completely detached from the ad, as if absorbed in private thoughts.

Another woman rests with her hands on a windowsill, and looks off absently into the distance. She is in a spell, possessed by intense emotions of which we will never know the specifics. In one plate, a nude woman sprawls, seemingly overwhelmed, in a daybed. She is in a sensual paradise, with a vase of flowers at her side and birds visible through the skylight above. Elsewhere women lean and wave, or shutters remain closed keeping the vistas unseen. The subjects are all transfixed. The women could have been uttering precisely what Baladine wrote Rilke during her own windowsill musings:

 

Often I dream in my dreams, and I see myself with

you-far, far away on a long journey. Oh Rene,

Rene, blessings on you! For seeing me before you

when you leave me: as a fountain, as a tree, as a

flower in your star shining above you-for you-1

have kissed Balthus and told him, “This comes from

far away.”

The Silence of Pictures

Guitar Lesson, Balthus, 1934

 

AN DIE MUSIK

“Musik: Atem der Statuen. Vielleicht:
Stille der Bilder. Du Sprache wo Sprachen
enden. Du Zeit
die senkrecht steht auf der Richtung
vergehender Herzen.

Gefühle zu wem? O du der Gefühle
Wandlung in was?— in hörbare Landschaft.
Du Fremde: Musik. Du uns entwachsener
Herzraum. Innigstes unser,
das, uns übersteigend, hinausdrängt,—
heiliger Abschied:
da uns das Innre umsteht
als geübteste Ferne, als andre
Seite der Luft:
rein,
riesig
nicht mehr bewohnbar.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
1918

 

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TO MUSIC

“Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps:
The silence of pictures. You, language where all
languages end. You, time
standing straight up out of the direction
of hearts passing on.

Feeling, for whom? O the transformation
of feeling into what?— into audible landscape.
Music: you stranger. Passion which
has outgrown us. Our inner most being,
transcending, driven out of us,—
holiest of departures:
inner worlds now
the most practiced of distances, as
the other side of thin air:
pure,
immense
no longer habitable.”