22 January 2011

Reading Rilke


It rained today and rains even now, fat, gentle, straight down drops. The cadence of this quality of mercy seems to have found a partner in the Beethoven I am listening to. O how I wish to dance uncovered in it and glory so. This is why I should have bought a house, rather than a unit. Thus my emotions could have found asylum with nature rather than my nature be placed in an asylum. I really like it when it rains unseasonably. It is harder than I thought to photograph rain.


Garlic season is here and it abounded at the EPIC market today. I made enough soup/stew to feed me for a week, if I eat like a dog, that is, always taking the same meal. A little too much water or not enough lentils, plus very generous with the cayenne pepper as it is a new ingredient to me. None fatal flaws in such a modest work. The pan pipe duo that played out the front of the market was musically disturbing in their commitment to atonality, although no-one else seemed to notice. It was almost beautiful.

Read some of Rainer Maria Rilke's famous Letters to a Young Poet. (Sorry, I don't know why he has a girl's name for a middle name.) It is quite a soothing little book. In the second letter, he advises the neophyte versifier: 'We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us.' Sadly, I am unable to find the original German for that online, but am fairly sure it would sound crushingly depressing if read aloud. Such a horrible tongue, no room for amusement. The following line from a poem called Abend (Evening) did appear: 'Slowly the evening changes into the clothes held for it by a row of ancient trees.' This is utterably lovely as demonstrated.

Makes me think that the poet's fate is intertwined with the quality of their metaphors, analogy or imagery. One of those. Something is always like something else. What is that thing beyond compare? That unalloyed treasure found everywhere? The Source. Is it worthy of infinite comparison when it has already expressed so markedly its commitment to self-discovery? Ah, these words, so like a poem, but not.

Rilke says first off that you should only write poetry if you feel you can not live without doing so. He also reminds junior-poet not to be shy about writing of his sorrow. I acknowledge that I don't usually write about my sorrow, maybe because it largely seems insoluble, or in fact that it changes so painfully slowly. Joy will dance for hours alone or take any partner, but finds it so difficult to coax sorrow onto the floor, for sorrow knows it will not sit down unchanged.

My most steadfast hunger when writing poems is to express beauty and that is often found in longing. For what we long we reach. It could be said - I am about to - that joy is the flesh upon the suffering bone. A limb without a bone is useless. Perhaps it is worth hoping that every sorrow gives strength to our limbs. Knowing that sorrow is mutable is the sword to slay our fears.

Beauty wears two masks - joy and sorrow. Hold too fast to the one and be sure to find it transformed within your grip to the other. Be only committed then to the beautiful. Which brings us to the concept of ugliness...dichotomy is so tiresome. This is the problem with prose.

Here is something I wrote at Yarralumla last Spring:


See the bird
It knows not hunger.
I am but a worm,
Call me plunder.


Do we build a cage
For the ineffable?
Or give form
To the unfathomable?
Everything comes,
Everything goes –
This is mystery.
But nothing ever leaves us,
Everything remains –
This is mystery.
Human games a shadow
Of a drama divine –
This is mystery.
I take the bitter
And I make wine.


This yearning to be nothing
And be all.
This stranger in the hall of time.
I see the carpet of a million leaves.
The canker of corruption
Ignoring the breeze.
Nothing knows form
And nothing takes shape
Without the breath of death
Forcing it to gape –
The endless maw of time
That powers the rhyme
Of the world.


To sing is not a crime,
To be a poet in time,
And remember beyond the ages.



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