from The Seventh Elegy
No more wooing! Voice, you've outgrown wooing; it won't be
the reason for your cry anymore, even if you cried clear as
a bird when the soaring season lifts him, almost forgetting
he's an anxious creature, and not just a single heart
she's tossing toward brightness, into the intimate blue.
Just like him, you'd be courting some still invisible,
still silent lover, a mate whose reply was slowly waking
and warming itself while she listened-- the glowing
reflection of your own fired feeling.
And, oh, Spring would understand--the mustic
of your annunciation would echo everywhere.
First that tiny swell of questioning surrounded by
the purely affirmative day's magnifying stillness.
Then the calling-intervals, the rising steps up
to the future's dreamed-of temple; then the trill,
the fountain whose rising jet's already lured into
falling by the promist of play... And ahead of it, summer.
Not only all of summer' dawns, not only
the way they turn into day and shine before beginning.
Not only the days, so delicate around flowers, bove,
around the molded trees, so heavy and strong.
Not only the reverence of these unleashed forces,
not only the paths, not only the evening meadows,
not only the breathing freshness after late thunder,
not only the coming of sleep and a premonition
at night--but also the nights! the high summer nights,
the nights and the stars, the stars of the earth.
Oh, to be dead at last and know all the stars,
forever! Then how, how, how could you forget them!
Look, I've been calling a lover. But she wouldn't come
alone... Other girls would rise out
of those crumbling graves and stand... How could I
limit the call I'd made? The lost are always searching
for the earth again. --Children, just one thing
of this world suddenly undrestood is valid for many.
Never think destiny's more than the substrate of childhood:
how often you'd catch up with a lover, panting, panting
from the happy chase, into the open, forever.
Life is glorious here. You girls knew it, even you
who seem to have gone without it--you who sank under
in the cities' vilest streets festerung like open sewers.
For there was one hour for each of you, maybe
less than an hour, some span between two whiles
that can hardly be measured, when you possessed Being.
All. Your veins swelled with existence.
But we forget so easily what our laughing neighbor
neigher confirms nor envies. We want to make it
visible, even though the most visible joy reveals
itself to us only when we've transformed it, within.
Love, the World exists nowhere but within.
Our life is lived in transformation. And, diminishing,
the outer world vanishes.
Ranier Maria Rilke 1927
Goethe, a great German poet, said that he spent his entire life learning to read. At eighty, he still didn't have the trick. So one question is, why might that be? What does it take to read?
I wonder if reading is a kind of state, a receptive, responsive, open one one's memory is relaxed enough to access different one's varoius associations. A great book would call for very great associations, perhaps, meaning expansion of experience. Real reading might also demand that one stay engaged with every word, difficult to do when thoughts attempt to interrupt through every line.
Rilke is often a litmus test for reading, for me, because he does demand a certain state of sensitivity, rare and delightful when it arises.
It's so hard to codify Rilke in an "analysis"--he must truly be read, be given over to, for only then could the sense of my small words come out. But a note about the first stanza:
Birds, in Rilke's poetry, often represent a higher state for man, a person who is freer from the heavy concerns of man. And so this bird forgets his own anxiety, forgets one identity in order to become a particle of the whole, "just a single heart."
Another thought: Rilke does such an exquisite job incorporating rapture and sadness into his poetry. Every time I read the Duino Elegies I am lifted and saddened. It seems that he balances the possibility of openness with such a compassionate look at the small and wondering man struggling to live.