March 25, 2011

Annunciation (1)

 Cambodian Dancer

(The angel speaks)

It's not that you are closer to God than we;
We are all far from God.
But your hands seem to me
so wonderfully blessed,
made ready as no other woman's.
They are almost radiant.
I am the day, I am the dew.
You, though, are the tree.

I am tired now, I have traveled a long way.
Forgive me, but I have forgotten
what He, enthroned in gold like the sun,
wanted me to tell you, quiet one.
All that space made me dizzy,
but I am just the beginning.
You, though, are the tree.

Book of Images


  1. "All that space made me dizzy,
    but I am just the beginning.
    You, though, are the tree."

    The layers in this verse are stunning, aren't they?

  2. Rilke's admiration and fascination of women -- of Woman -- is everywhere in his work. In an uncollected poem he begins with a quote from the sayings of a Pharaoh from 2000 BC, stating his archetypal belief:

    'We must die because we have known them.' Die
    of their smile's unsayable flower. Die
    of their delicate hands. Die
    of women.

    He believed women, through the depths of their more intimate feeling - a place they were much more practiced and developed - surpassed any man by dint of their presence Inside. (I happen to agree.) Women flocked to Rilke not because, as you once said, they so needed him, but because in his lines he so needed them. It starts with Mother, of course, that woman who wished he were a girl and dressed him so til he was five and later abandoned him, and then the bohemian artist Clara who would become his wife and mother of his daughter Ruth, both of whom he could only love at a distance, the intimacies they invited too intense, a drowning like the flood-tide of scent from the rose. Biblical figures like the Mother of Christ and Mary Magdalene find their way in in "New Poems." There's the Spanish Dancer and Alcestis. And then there's the figure behind the Sonnets, the 19-year-old Vera Knoop, the daughter of friends, a dance, who died young: She becomes Eurydice, the forever just-kissed-and-lost bride, an embrace of life-in-death and death-in-life. His devotion to women and theirs to him was, if you read the likes of Julian Jaynes, a survival of the old matriarchal dominance of the right side of the brain, an oceanic uteral pull Rilke recieved his song entire from the start, though we only now begin to suspect that ... (PS, I think the title is misspelled should be "Annunciation," extra "n" there) - Brendan

  3. Yes, Terresa. I had already "been blessed" by this verse's being out of the voice of the angel, a sort of response to Mary's magnificat. But now, in the context of Rilke's woman-love, Brendan, it fills up like a billowing cloud. What a treasure packed into your comment. (And thanks so much for the "n" notice: I've fixed it.)

    In the final stanza here I would just as readily believe that the angel is dizzy from meeting this woman, as from the space he has just traveled. And what a stunning bit of news, that the angels also feel distant from God! Then, to contrast the "beginning" with the tree, the ethereal with tangible growth? Well, maybe looking for meaning in that is to try to define what is only breath.

  4. i wonder, were rilke to have been born in this century, if his perspective on women, their place, their place in his life, would be altered? or if, regardless of the external characteristics of their presence, his perspective would be mediated by the "uteral pull" referenced in brendan's superb unpacking? steven

  5. Ruth, I agree with your observation about Rilke finding angels just as distant from God as we are. Wow! They are as existentially alone as we are. I also wondered it "the angelic" was to Rilke his own vatic voice, empowered by God while remaining infinitely removed from Him/Her, of the same essence but essentially alone. I think the distance between Rilke and God was exactly the same as between he and Woman: so he could sing of both with the same sort of anchorites devotion and pain.

    Also, that second comment you made, about o contrast the "beginning" with the tree, the ethereal with tangible growth" -- I wonder if he's making the observation that the poet creates out of an imagined womb, while woman creates life out of her own womb, thus, the poet can only begin to grow what is already "tree" in the woman, whose creation comes from the deepest biology ...

    And yeah, Steven, I wonder if a Rilke could exist in our times, that much further removed from the cultural dissolution of the church with its Mother Mary so identified, in Rilke's mind, with his own mother, and every intimate encounter with a woman since ... However, everyone still is born, and the grief over the separation from the uterine environment hasn't changed a bit, and so culture still has, I think, that huge blue substratum plucking the lute-strings, so to speak. Maybe the Voice would be more disembodied, dissolute, hard to imagine, as what our age has lost the most of is imagination, so bombarded by literal a white noise as we get from our TVs and iPods and laptops ...- Brendan

  6. it's an odd place to be but there is a place in me that feels beyond sex, as though i am not a woman at all. in this place i feel as brendan suggests rilke feels, He believed women, through the depths of their more intimate feeling - a place they were much more practiced and developed - surpassed any man by dint of their presence Inside. perhaps it is because of their physical vulnerability, the construction of woman as bowl, the receiver and thereby more open in nature? i'm unsure. as mother, certainly, parts of us open we've no control over. somehow it seems to me vulnerability is key. it grants women the gift of receiving (not just the obvious) but truths that might not otherwise arrive. but also, knowing and accepting vulnerability grants such power. as motherhood obviously grants both vulnerability and power as well.

    women have the opportunity to both be extremely vulnerable and powerful. i suppose this is not true of men. am i wrong? how would i know? i'm just thinking this out now.

    uh, i laugh. i've lost my train of thought.

    the distance between Rilke and God was exactly the same as between he and Woman i wonder if it is not the same as this for all of us and our lovers?

    anyhow, sorry, i make little sense, but i leave defining my ideas within me more, but ironically without the words to convey them.


  7. Yes, erin, even the separation of skin seems too much.

    We are all trying to make sense of things whose meanings are buried in breath, I'm afraid. But it sure is fun to talk about it all. I think you've got something about the vulnerability.

    It reminds me of something Ken Wilber said. When the feminist movement came along, men had to start caring about relationship (or pretend they did) and women had to become warriors. The role reversals have not always fared too well, I think. Sometimes it looks pretty silly if you ask me. I'm all for women being women and men being women, in our wide spectrum of those realities. But I would like very much not to be someone else. As for being vulnerable, I do agree it's a feminine trait, and perhaps women have it by nature (I can't walk out alone at night, sadly), but men can learn it in some fashion, but never quite the same. Can it be believed? Ha. Sometimes I wonder. I always appreciate the attempts at any rate.

    As for being beyond being a man or woman, I think I understand you, and maybe that is the important unifier of the feminist movement, that we are more able to get over these divisions that make us so different from one another, whether gender, culture, or whatever they may be.

  8. Oops, how funny is that. I said I'm all for men being women. :-) I meant, of course, men being men, but the other is sort of fun to contemplate too in this context.

  9. Shakespeare had to have men be women, according to the rules of his day, and the results showed that reversals were a great way of telling truths. The dude who played Viola in "Twelfth Night" who then went into disguise playing the dude/courtier Cesario proved much more apt at wooing than a dude -- but then -- ah, forget it.

    I don't mean to make that much of the distinction between men and women, but there are archetypal roots in myth which show that a woman's creative power was revered and feared by men from Day One -- so much so that it was easier to dominate women than figger 'em out 'n' leave them with so much clout.

    Actually, I think men and women both greatly underestimate their powers, but most of them come from unconscious sources so easily demonized that I think we're even more afraid of ourselves.

    And today, gender roles mean less and less, thank god, the way racially-mixed relationships become more common. Women are actually rising the economic scale very fast -- far more women graduate these days than men. God may morph into a HIspanic mamacita before too long.

    I'll just iterate one last time how much women meant to Rilke as the result of maternal damage crossed by the angelic voice which roots in the same lobe of the brain. Intimacy threatened to annihilate Rilke as much as the deadly birds of the soul. But that wound was ultimately his greatest gift. Angels. Women. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. But gender may mean less than the problem of I and Thou, This and Other, Lover and whatever Beloved. - B.

  10. All great points, Brendan. Seriously, your points, and Erin's, Steven's, Terresa's wonder, all of it has my head spinning. I wish we could all sit down and hash and hash and hash.

    I'm glad you iterated one more time about this fascinating topic of Rilke's woman-ology, because it gets us back to the reading, and to the context for his self in relation to angels and women. How incredible the shaping of what his mother did in those early years!

    I like where you and Erin got in the end: it is perhaps far more about me and the other, the lover and the beloved. We are all essentially alone. I feel this keenly, constantly.

  11. hmmm, keenly, constantly.

    never a truer sermon spoken. wonderfully exciting dialogue.


  12. Keenly, constantly. Yes. Why is it that when I get close and closer to my beloved, her essential alien distance becomes most prescient? Is it a trick of my senses? Is my gut wrong? Or is it true that we never breach the walls of self til death we do part, and therefore essentially remain alone, with only notions and figments and tropes of love rather than genuine union?

    This is beginning to sound like deconstruction: OF COURSE there's intimacy, it's just that there aren't sufficient or precise enough names for it. The experience is too old, maybe too uterine, pre-verbal to be communicable. So maybe we're still, ever, looking for love in all the wrong places, using all the wrong names. In exactly the same way many wouldn't know spirituality if it bit them in the ass, I'd bet most people don't know they are Inside with another because there isn't any word for that. And Rilke's angels are as estranged from their god as he is from the ineffable mystery of Woman: But did that stop him from singing?

    Besides: who moved? We did, with our differentiating brains. Erin is so right to point out so elequently in her work that differences are only constructs of language, the biggest being between the dead and the living. Rilke understood, toward the end, that only full assent to both life and death could allow pure being to being to find an articulation. For us to say the unsayable. And his reverence for the unnamable surely appliies to that education in love he felt our species was still in the pre-kinnygarten of.

    Words fail. Silence knows. It is that breath "inside the god./ A wind. " How will we ever find love, trapped in all of our words for it? How will we ever find god, raptoring silence with words? Orpheus' head kept singing after it had been removed from his shoulders. We don't shut up, either. No poet can. We're all doomed to get pinned, repeatedly, by those successively greater angels.- B

  13. The first time I read this poem I did not understand his referencing the Tree as woman. Repeating a single word over and over again and listening for the similar sounding words seemed to give it more credence as I thought mystery mistress Miss Tree, which made far more sense than Mr. E, Mr. S, Mr. T. It felt almost like an Ethical Reconation Therapy

  14. Oh, Dusti, Miss Tree. I like it. I'll never see "mystery" the same again.

    So, we won't shut up, I hope. The words bring such joy. Thank god Rilke didn't shut up. Or Rumi either, even though he kept denouncing words. But always, always with words.

    Speaking of, apparently Ojibwe has no word for death. Maybe we just live in the wrong language.

  15. and yes, just like "the closer I get to the city, the further I am from memory" I do not believe that the separation from understanding the spiritual realm while alive an coexisting in a body part of earth is something we imprison ourselves in with our thoughts. I see it more as simple math, they way we our born, a set of 100% (percent/person) the more healed or heald or healthy your physical body is, the further it is from death. Whatever percent you are at living (arbitrarily say at the pinnacle of one's health you know 90% physical world and only aware of 10% spiritual)

    that 100% math is all that there can be until the glass ceiling is shattered. Only then can a person be 90% aware of the physical and aware of 90% of the spiritual world. With that aware of the truth, being able to tell what is truth and what is false becomes easier and easier. Like an acquired taste for fine desserts instead of ding dongs and twinkies.

    Word, languages, written, spoken or felt, were given for the purpose of understanding. To understand, or just a genuine desire to understand, is LOVE. The real lesson, the real reason, the whole point.

    words are the the media that most can grasp (understand) the most complete definitions, but the purpose of words, is to communicate, and through that, to understand.

    It is more important to understand than to be able to speak or spell the words. I understand all the different points of view and undefinable philosophy, but for me and my opinion, the black and white is are you trying to communicate so that others will understand, or are you trying to lead someone away from whatever it is they are trying to understand.

    one is honest and true, one is not

  16. :) and thank you Ruthi, I had not read your comment until after I had left my second two cents worth in comment

  17. Wow. These comments are beyond me.
    This angel, so humbled by Mary, the quiet one with hands almost radiant. Hands that hold, that care, that create, that pray...
    I am just the beginning.
    You, though, are the tree.

    What is a tree but roots and hands, creating and holding the fruit?

  18. Dusti: It is more important to understand than to be able to speak or spell the words. YES.

    ds, oh beautiful--roots and hands, creating and holding the fruit-- what an image. I never thought of a tree like a woman before this post today, and holding the fruit . . . ohh, so lovely.

  19. catching up quietly here..
    and I too like what ds said,
    among all the brilliance and wonder.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!