Category Archives: Rilke, Rainer Maria

page 15 of 96 of Duino Elegies

The Second Elegy

Tobit was one of the only righteous men who buried the dead according to rights. The journey to the next world matters as does our memory of the dead. Angels and birds are the heralds – augury – of infinite time, not future, not prophecy, but pure, terrifying infinite spaces. And who resides in those infinite spaces but the archangel Micheal himself, messenger of God who blesses Tobit’s daughter-in-law by ridding her of the curse of the demon that would not allow her to marry and create life from within her.

Yet the first creations were all the things of the world, the mountains, the rivers, all the things that are not us. We came last and we named them, though the word had already created them. We interpret only.

And as we live “we evaporate”, constantly giving off parts of ourselves as if life was an act of boiling away and “what is ours rises from us”, including our smiles. Perhaps we are giving ourselves back to the angles? Perhaps we are also mixing together with everyone else’s essence? And where do the smiles go? They have an effect long after they disappear – our emotions are so much larger than we are – where does that excess energy go? Yet we don’t notice any of this happening, we go about “like a rush of air” always onto some design of our making that really doesn’t, in the end, matter all that much. What matters is that we exist now, and now, and now. But we’re locked out of that eternity.

Born into angels and born from the mother – always being born into something.

page 9 of 96 of Duino Elegies

The First Elegy

What is within us is larger than us; we contain it and it contains us.

How can we look at an angel? How terrifying would that be to be confronted with an existence so much greater than ourselves but also one which can hardly detect if we are among the living or the dead? But even in the face of beauty, how do we really comprehend it? What is beauty? It’s not something we can point to as an object, in fact it almost has nothing to do with appearances at all – it’s a feeling, like the impression of the presence of an angel.

He writes, “how little at home we are / in the interpreted world” and I feel this line is very sad because it feels as if we will always fall short of experiencing the world as it truly is, as if we have to fall on words and impressions of things because if we were to be confronted with reality – angels (which is ironic, I suppose) – we would be consumed, overwhelmed, eradicated of all individuality. Perhaps this is what the Platonist’s mean by The Forms in that we cannot touch the One, true thing, we only live in shadows and interpretations of them. Yet perhaps beauty is the sort of energy or language the form of anything gives off and that allows us to we aware of it at all. Perhaps this is how something bigger than ourselves can be contained within ourselves.

The world feels so full of possibility (good and bad) in “the night, when the wind is full of worldspace”. We can imagine anything – infinity – within the confines of our mind, in the safety of darkness. Yet we don’t possess this infinity because we are not like the animals who live in infinity, we are forever qualifying the world. Better to “Cast the emptiness from your arms / into the spaces we breathe: perhaps the birds / will sense the increase of air with more passionate flying”. Infinity exists in the smallest possible spaces and moments, such in a wave or “a violin” playing from an “open window”. Those are the moments we remember, because those are the infinities of beauty, yet we are “always / distracted by expectation” of something more “real” which isn’t real at all, but fleeting and transitory.

Funny, too how in death is the eternal – the hero who “lives on. Even in his downfall”. We are almost closer to living in death than we are when we live, but we must rely on each other. Imagine how strange it is that we carry around everyone who has ever lived inside of us, and for those who we’ve loved take up an even larger portion of our souls, as if they too are larger than us, yet are within us. No wonder angels can’t tell if we are alive or dead, so slight is the difference to them.

“God’s voice” can be heard clearly “on the wind’s breathing” and it’s so simple to understand. Yet we cling so hard to the customs and traditions of living that we have to be literally ripped from this world in our “final birth”. We want to wish, to think of the future of our lives and it’s too strange  to “not go on wishing one’s wishes” and to prepare and plan for death with as little left undone as possible, but does the wind care if it is finished anything? Does the word of God ever stop? Does beauty? Why do we worry so much about the dead? Why do we need them so much more than they need us?

page 1 of 96 of Duino Elegies

I wish I had an opportunity to have some royal family allow me unfettered access to a castle within which I can just live their and write poetry.

I wonder if this is why I more like poets like Heaney, W.C.W., and people closer to the average human experience?

I’ve never read Rilke before so I have no idea what I’m in for, but I doubt it will be like Pound’s prison poetry.

Rainer Maria Rilke: The Panther

Rilke’s poem first reminds me of Kafka’s short story ‘The Hunger Artist”, written 20 years later. However, unlike Kafka who no doubt saw himself as being replaced with a virile panther after the forgotten “artist’s” cage had been cleared out (his self doubt central to the imagery), Rilke uses this imagery to show us something that is trapped and cannot escape. It’s possible Rilke wanted to show us how mankind had been “successful” in capturing nature, controlling it at the turn of the century. Stefan Zweig describes his WWI ultimately.

The line “The world is made of bars” could represent the world as Rilke saw it. Technological innovation on the largest scale in human history was growing in all direction: iron cities, factories belching smoke, tenement houses filled with poverty and despair. Man might have created a marvel, but it is a prison, too: technology saves us work but it enslaves us. He then juxtaposes “bars” with the imagery of movement, “lithe swinging”, to show us what has been lost, what has been captured. And this evokes the imagery of a clock: a brass casing housing a living mechanism.

Finally there is a theatricality to it all when he uses the word “curtains”, as if it’s all a show and it’s all fake and it’s being run by someone we can’t see. It ends sinister, too with what feels like an assassin but it seems ambiguous as to what or whom is being killed: us or the panther? Is Rilke saying we are killing nature, or is this like a Jurassic Park metaphor where the panther will eventually escape because we are not smart enough to contain it forever?