Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Rainer Maria Rilke

I am not a connoisseur of poetry. I have only read the assigned poets from my school days plus some Shel Silversteen and Khalil Gibran (my favorite poet). Poetry has always intimidated me. It seems like you either “get it” or you don’t, and it’s no fun being on the “don’t” side.

Opa recommended Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry to Gisela in this letter. Rilke's poetry is surprisingly approachable. The poem I read is from Opa's recommendation: The Book of Hours. It starts like this:

Now the hour bends down and touches me
with its clear, metallic ring:
my senses tremble. The feeling forms: I can-
and I grasp the malleable day.

Well, that’s sort of delicious.

Later, Rilke alludes to the story of Cain and Abel..

You pronounced live strongly and die softly
and ceaselessly repeated: Be.
But before the first death murder came.
With that a rent tore through your perfect circles
and a scream broke in
and scattered all those voices
that had just then come together
to sing you,
to carry you about,
their bridge over all abysses-

And what they have been stammering since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

Woah. But here was my absolute favorite part:

God talks to each of us as he creates us,
then walks us silently out of night.
But the words, spoken to us before we start,
these cloudy words, are these:

Sent forth by your senses,
go to the very edge of your desire;
invest me.

Back behind the things grow as fire,
so that their shadows, lengthened,
will always and completely cover me.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Only press on: no feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself be cut off from me.
Nearby is that country
known as Life.

You will recognize it
by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go let everything happen to me and follow my dreams.

Lastly, Rilke gives me this gem:

O Lord, give us each our own death. Grant us
the dying that comes forth from that life in which
we knew love, grappled with meaning, felt need.

My introduction to Rilke has been a good one. And now maybe I will give poetry an honest try. I can’t remember where I heard/read this - but someone said the meaning and quality of art was in its ability to start a conversation. I’ve always liked that. It frees us from needing to label something as good or bad or perfect or flawed. If it starts a conversation, it has meaning and value. Perhaps the same applies to the art of poetry. Maybe I don’t have to “get it” or understand the original intent. Maybe the goal is to start a conversation. Perhaps I will find something no one else found. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thanks Opa- I may become a connoisseur of poetry after all.

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