Duino Elegies 1 and 2 – Rainer Maria Rilke

Duino Elegies 1 and 2 – Rainer Maria Rilke

Posted on Jan 9th, 2007 by Nicole : wakingdreamer Nicole

Loveofsouls_-_a

(thanks to lightbeing for this and other stunning pictures by A. Andrew Gonzalez)

Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
The First Elegy
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?

and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.
Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take into our vision;
there remains for us yesterday’s street and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at our faces.
Whom would it not remain for–that longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence,
which the solitary heart so painfully meets.
Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don’t you know yet?
Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.Yes–the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?
Weren’t you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?
(Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
going and coming and often staying all night.)
But when you feel longing, sing of women in love; for their famous passion is still not immortal.
Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising; remember: the hero lives on;
even his downfall was merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back into herself,
as if there were not enough strength to create them a second time.
Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough
so that any girl deserted by her beloved might be inspired by that fierce example of soaring,
objectless love and might say to herself, “Perhaps I can be like her?”
Shouldn’t this most ancient of sufferings finally grow more fruitful for us?
Isn’t it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and,
quivering, endured: as the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension,
so that gathered in the snap of release it can be more than itself.
For there is no place where we can remain.
Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:
until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground;
yet they kept on, impossibly, kneeling and didn’t notice at all: so complete was their listening.
Not that you could endure God’s voice–far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn’t their fate, whenever you stepped into a church in Naples or Rome,
quietly come to address you?
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
as, last year, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance of injustice about their death–
which at times slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future;
no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands;
to leave even one’s own first name behind,
forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.
Though the living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which
they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,
and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.
In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
they are weaned from earth’s sorrows and joys,
as gently as children outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers.
But we, who do need such great mysteries,
we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit’s growth–:
could we exist without them?
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness;
and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god has suddenly left forever,
the Void felt for the first time that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.
The Second Elegy
Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,
almost deadly birds of the soul, knowing about you.
Where are the days of Tobias, when one of you, veiling his radiance,
stood at the front door, slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the window).
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us:
our own heart, beating higher and higher, would beat us to death.
Who are you?
Early successes, Creation’s pampered favorites,
mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn of all beginning,–
pollen of the flowering godhead, joints of pure light,
corridors, stairways, thrones, space formed from essence,
shields made of ecstasy, storms of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly alone:
mirrors, which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back, into themselves, entire.
But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we breathe ourselves out and away;
from moment to moment our emotion grows fainter, like a perfume.
Though someone may tell us: “Yes, you’ve entered my bloodstream, the room,
the whole springtime is filled with you . . . “–what does it matter? he can’t contain us,
we vanish inside him and around him.
And those who are beautiful, oh who can retain them?
Appearance ceaselessly rises in their face, and is gone.
Like dew from the morning grass, what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish of hot food.
O smile, where are you going?
O upturned glance: new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
alas, but that is what we are.
Does the infinite space we dissolve into, taste of us then?
Do the angels really reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves,
or sometimes, as if by an oversight, is there a trace of our essence in it as well?
Are we mixed in with their features even as slightly as that vague look
in the faces of pregnant women?
They do not notice it (how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.
Lovers, if they knew how, might utter strange, marvelous words in the night air.
For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you about us.
You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have become aware of each other,

or that my time-worn face shelters itself inside them.
That gives me a slight sensation.
But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other’s passion grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
“No more . . . “; you who beneath his hands swell with abundance,
like autumn grapes; you who may disappear because the other has wholly emerged:
I am asking you about us.
I know, you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves,
because the place you so tenderly cover does not vanish;
because underneath it you feel pure duration.
So you promise eternity, almost, from the embrace.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of the first glances,
the longing at the window, and the first walk together, once only, through the garden:
lovers, are you the same?
When you lift yourselves up to each other’s mouth and your lips join,
drink against drink: oh how strangely each drinker seeps away from his action.
Weren’t you astonished by the caution of human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Wasn’t love and departure placed so gently on shoulders
that it seemed to be made of a different substance than in our world?
Remember the hands, how weightlessly they rest, though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: “We can go this far,
this is ours, to touch one another this lightly; the gods can press down harder upon us.
But that is the gods’ affair.”
If only we too could discover a pure, contained, human place,
our own strip of fruit-bearing soil between river and rock.
Four our own heart always exceeds us, as theirs did.
And we can no longer follow it,
gazing into images that soothe it or into the godlike bodies where,
measured more greatly, it achieves a greater repose.
Samme : Prince of Rainbows<3
about 4 hours later

Samme said

Thank you Nicole for posting this.  I would like to get a new copy of the book now.  I had it before but now I feel it is time to bring it back to my collections.
Samme

about 14 hours later

WH said

I love the Duino Elegies, especially (I think) number 9, No More Wooing.

Thanks for posting these – you seem to be a big Rilke fan. Yes?

Peace,
Will

Nicole : wakingdreamer
about 15 hours later

Nicole said

will, Yes! :)definitely. I will look at No More Wooing again… thanks for the reminder.

Samme, I have a little copy of it myself and know what you mean – I was so happy when I reconnected with the Elegies by buying that.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer
about 1 year later

Marmalade said

I read through it, but its a lot to take in.  I’d need to read it multiple times to really get a sense of it.  I’ll return to it again later and hopefully I’ll be able to give more of a response.  But for now these lines near the beginning stood out to me.

Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.

Nicole : wakingdreamer
about 1 year later

Nicole said

yes, i stopped at those a lot when i first read this. i know it’s hard to get into, dear Ben but it’s really worth it. i guess you don’t usually read poetry?

Marmalade : Gaia Child
about 1 year later

Marmalade said

I don’t usually read poetry.  I have read various poets off and on over the years, but I’ve never focused much on it.  I certainly have never delved into a single poet the way I have with the writings of someone like PKD.  I did date a poet for a while and I wrote bad poetry in highschool… does that count?  🙂

You’ve got me interested in Rilke, but the poet I’ve for years been wanting to get into is Blake.

Nicole : wakingdreamer
about 1 year later

Nicole said

Blake is wonderful. Much clearer than Rilke too. Yes, poetry can be really challenging if you’re not immersed in the genre.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer
about 1 year later

Marmalade said

If Blake is much clearer, what is it about Rilke that you enjoy so much?
Who are some of your other favorite poets?

I did get some sense of what goes into poetry when I dated a poet.  She was very serious about her work, and had moved to this town for the writer’s workshop.  My appreciation for poetry has increased over the years.  Partly my problem with poetry is that I have no knack for it.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer
about 1 year later

Nicole said

oh i love obscurity in poets :):) i’m very perverse in that way and others.

that’s interesting about you dating a poet. i enjoy writing poetry to express my emotions but i’m just a dabbler and no true poet.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer
about 1 year later

Marmalade said

The First Elegy

“Whom would it not remain for–that longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence,
which the solitary heart so painfully meets.
Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.”

Once again, human love is not enough… and can even be problematic, a way of hiding some truth.

“Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.”

Ah, but failed human love that transforms into longing is a whole other matter.

“Isn’t it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved”

Love can only be transformed into longing when we free ourselves from the object of love.

“forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.”

A seeming reference to the the failure of the toy that represents human love.

“Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.”

A seeming reference to the transcenent nature of puppets.  Angels don’t discern between a human and a puppet, the living and the dead.  This brings up the question of what moves us.  If we are moved from above rather than from within, then are we too puppets of the divine?

Nicole : wakingdreamer
about 1 year later

Nicole said

The First Elegy
“Once again, human love is not enough… and can even be problematic, a way of hiding some truth.”

especially the truth that we are each always a solitude, so even in love, it’s just two solitudes greeting each other, as he says in the Letters to a Young Poet.

“Ah, but failed human love that transforms into longing is a whole other matter.”

Not just longing – lovers have longing, and worse in a way. Those who love purely one who is unattainable have transformed longing into emptiness… (which) the birds will feel … with more passionate flying .
and  mission. But could you accomplish it? only if you give up the search for comfort in a lover’s arms, apparently…
it is that fierce example of soaring,
objectless love… this most ancient of sufferings (which can) finally grow more fruitful for us… Isn’t it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and, 
quivering, endured: as the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension,so that gathered in the snap of release it can be more than itself.
For there is no place where we can remain.

“A seeming reference to the the failure of the toy that represents human love.”

Not just human love but all of life… just before the broken toy reference it says
it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future;
no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands;
to leave even one’s own first name behind,
and later
 those who were carried off early no longer need us:

they are weaned from earth’s sorrows and joys,
as gently as children outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers.

“A seeming reference to the transcenent nature of puppets.  Angels don’t discern between a human and a puppet, the living and the dead.  This brings up the question of what moves us.  If we are moved from above rather than from within, then are we too puppets of the divine?”

But listen what he says about angels (which to Rilke, not your average theist, is a highly symbolic figure, not in the usual sense of winged creatures)


even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.

we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying…

if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us:

our own heart, beating higher and higher, would beat us to death.
Who are you?

(and from the second elegy) Early successes, Creation’s pampered favorites,

mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn of all beginning,–
pollen of the flowering godhead, joints of pure light,
corridors, stairways, thrones, space formed from essence,
shields made of ecstasy, storms of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly alone:
mirrors, which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back, into themselves, entire.

or this

Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:


until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground;
yet they kept on, impossibly, kneeling and didn’t notice at all: so complete was their listening.
so, not mere puppets but filling with being and power…

Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Posted on May 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
The Secret Life of Puppets
By Victoria Nelson
Pages 69-70

In the essay “Doll: On the Wax Dolls of Lote Pritzel” (1913-14), inspired by an exhibit of life-size adult dolls he had seen in Munich as well as the Kleist esay, Rainer Maria Rilke confronts the frustrating paradox of graven images that will not come to life.  Noting as a casual given that most inanimate objects “eagerly” absorb human tenderness (“a violin’s devotion, the good-natured eagerness of horn-rimmed spectacles”), he laments the fact that the childhood fusion with the self-object doll is a barren union that promises everything and delivers nothing.  “You doll-soul,” he exclaims in this monologue addressed to an idol that does not reply, “not made by god, you soul, begged as a whim by some impetuous elf, you thing-soul exhaled laboriously by an idol and kept in being by us all.”  As children, he says, we invent a soul for the doll, but ultimately the doll makes the child feel cheated,  “unmasked as the gruesome foreign body on which we squandered our purest affection.’  By the end of cihildhood “we could not make it into a thing or person, and in such moments it became a stranger to us,’ and so the doll-soul and its possibilities die for good.  Rilke suggests that this kind of infantile wish-animism is doomed to wither in the object once it has died within us.

The same is not true of the puppet, however.  Rilke expresses his hope that this simulacrum will prove to be a potential soul vessel in the fourth Duino elegy, where he builds explicitly on the paradoxes Kleist set forth in “On the Marionette Theater”:

    when I am in the mood
    to wait before the puppet stage, no,
    to watch it so intensely that, in order
    finally to compensate for my watching, as puppeteer
    an angel must come to set the puppets in motion

Or, as Harold Segel has elegantly paraphrased this passage: “Once the self is overcome, one stands before the possibility of a heretofore unrealizable interaction of the material world, represented by the puppet figure, and the transcendent world, represented by the figure of an angel… the path to harmonize the world.”  The puppet-angel conjunction is in fact Rilke’s solution to the mute and fruitless idolatry of childhood, a state of innocence to which, like the Garden of Eden, we cannot return.

Rilke continues:

    Angel and puppet.  Now we will have a play.
    Now will there come together what we always
    Divide because of our presence…
    Now will the angel perform over us.

To achieve the loss of ego necessary to experience the true unio mystica, the conjunction of the visible and invisible worlds, he says, we must do precisely as Kleist’s Mr. C. suggests — bite the apple again and re-lose our innocence.  For Rilke, however, this loss of ego may represent not, as Louis Sass argues about Kleist, the subject-object fusion that is “an obliteration of all individuating self-consciousness,’ but rather a more sophisticated state of integration, “a higher self-consciousness that is, at the same time, a higher self-fogetfulness,” the true Paradise on earth.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

38 minutes later

Nicole said

yes, indeed, Rilke always aspired toward that true integration. you can see it as well when he speaks of love, for example in the passage I quoted in the God Pod discussion What is Love? excellent blog. I’m really enjoying this Rilke series, learning a lot

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

I posted these blogs about Rilke for 4 reasons.
1) I thought you might enjoy them.
2) It might start some nice discussion.
3) The 2 books I quoted from are ones I’ve been looking at recently and this gives me an opportunity to think about them.
4) Its a non-poetic way of looking at poetry.  🙂

I was noticing how different a view Rilke’s ideas of the doll are from The Velveteen Rabbit.  No amount of human love(no matter how innocent and pure) is going to animate Rilke’s dolls into animate Reality.  The puppet, on the other hand, draws forth the animating power beyond the human(child or otherwise), the Angel.  The doll can’t be ensouled, but the puppet can be moved by the angelic spirit.  The puppet can be animated because that which animates is transcendent to it.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 6 hours later

Nicole said

yes, Ben! oh, how do you see so clearly? i very deeply admire your keen mind and insight.

and thanks that you were at least partly motivated by my enjoyment. that is definitely full reality!