Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poem of the Week 12/10/2007: " ill that heals and wounds."

{From a capitolo, a verse epistle:]

Young ladies, you who still enjoy your freedom
From the constraining bounds that Love imposes,
With which I and so many more are bound,
If you wish passionately to have knowledge
About this Love, who is made god and master
Not only by this age, but by olden times:
It is a burning feeling, vain desire
For empty shadows, self-imposed deception,
Setting your own well-being in disregard;...

Display of what were better kept in hiding,
A way of life forever pale and trembling,
Wandering in a way not understood;
Debasing of your self toward the beloved,
But when away from him, bold and defiant---
Not knowing surely where to set your feet;
A state of holding your own life in hatred,
Loving another more; your own existence
Darkened and say; again, happy and bright.
An apathy toward other occupations,
Fleeing from company of other people;
Close to one only, alien to yourself;...

Though hurt, unable to express your grievance
To the offended; misdirected anger
Against yourself, disprizing of yourself;
Seeing one face alone that's worth the looking;
Preoccupied with it, though at a distance;
An inner happiness expressed in sighs---
And finally, an ill that heals and wounds.

[#241, ll.1-9, 25-36, 43-49]

Gaspara Stampa ~1550
trans. Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lillie 1994

Rilke references Gaspara Stampa in the First Elegy of the Duino Elegies, and for a moment I had to ask why: why choose this poet? Why would their poetry intersect? Stampa is concerned with the experience of love, and the experience of the lover-abandoned. A member of the Italian literati in Venice in the 1540s and 50s, she fell in love with Collaltino de Collato, an adventuring man who, though was Stampa's sometime lover, did not return her love with such ardour. Stampa, on the other hand, wrote 311 poems out of this abandonment.

I might bet that Rilke chooses Stampa for her bravery in facing her despair. He writes that we ought to admire her as a greater lover, and it does seem that she can bear greater love! She can embrace the love and the anxiety, learning from both. Moreover, she is keenly aware of the progress that comes from suffering--this selection ends with, "an ill that heals and wounds." In what capacity does it do both? I believe that she is talking firstof the pleasure of loving another so much that even to think about his leaving makes one feel the closer to him, and thus happier. In other poems, though, she is explicit that he was the muse for an even greater love, poetry itself. There is healing in the controlled expression and transsubstantiation of love, perhaps. Is this true, that a refined, healthy way of dealing with the sexual feeling, and with love, is through art? I wonder!

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