Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Re-reading Rilke

This, my first week of unemployment, I've spent (1) registering with employment agencies and (2) lying/walking around aimlessly, enjoying this beautiful 75-ish-degree weather and my not having to be on a crappy bus for 3 hours a day.

Monday I spent turning off my TV, going grocery shopping, buying the 7-year-old nephew some cheap birthday gifts from a drugstore, and reading David Sedaris's latest collection of essays, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." Reading Sedaris always makes me feel sane and happy, and after I finished his book, I was at a loss for how to keep the "good feeling" intact... didn't want to turn the TV back on, so reached for my Rilke books -- the collected poems and "Letters to a Young Poet." And lay in bed and read and watched the patterns of the light/leaves flickering on my closet door and read some more and watched and read...

My Rilke poems I bought back in '86 when I was consumed with poetry and melancholy and carried this book around with me wherever I went. I don't have the energy right now to type out lengthy stretches of his "Duino Elegies" that were/are so beautifully moving and life-giving to me, but from Monday 'til today I kept especially re-reading the First, Fourth, and Ninth elegies. And then poems from his "Sonnets to Orpheus" series and individual poems like "O Lacrimosa" and "What birds plunge through..." and "Lament"... OK, I will take the time to quote from "Lament" because it echoes what I've been constantly aware of and picking up on psychically for much of my life:

Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said...

And then in Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" (written in the early 1900s to... a young poet), I had to write down the following snippets, more genuinely soul-healing than anything Joel Osteen could have told me (though he tried, he tried!):

"Do not be bewildered by the surfaces; in the depths all becomes law. And those who live the secret wrong and badly (and they are very many), lose it only for themselves and still hand it on, like a sealed letter, without knowing it."

"...consider whether these great sadnesses have not rather gone right through the center of yourself? Whether much in you has not altered, whether you have not somewhere, at some point of your being, undergone a change while you were sad?...For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown ...Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing is in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more, -- is already in our blood."

"That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter...And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."

When I'm scared, Rilke has always helped me to not be scared.

1 comment:

casu2 said...

I wish you could read it in German,
his language is incredible beautiful!
S.