March 5, 2011

In Our Own Way

Blacksmith Shop, by Vincent van Gogh

Ever turned toward what we create, we see in it
only reflections of the Open, darkened by us.
Except when an animal silently looks us through and through.
This is our fate: to stand
in our own way. Forever
in the way.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy


  1. Oh it's gorgeous! Got here through Brendan at Orans Well( I did.

    This is distilled, very nice, falls back on itself, on me.

    Very nice.

  2. Welcome, Kolembo! Brendan contributes much here from his reservoir of Rilke-knowledge and insight.

    Yes, distilled is a good word for Rilke's writing.

  3. Aw shucks, thanks, but Rilke is such a massive cultural property for every poet that no one can hold him an any full enough measure. To you, Ruth and Lorenzo, thanks for creating this well of Rilkean wonder ...

    O.K. In Mitchell's collection of his translations of Rilke, he includes several notes to the Eighth Elegy, the following from a letter Rilke wrote to Lev P. Stauvre in Feb. 1926 -- ten months before his death:

    "You must understand the concept of the 'Open,' which I have tried tto propose in this Elegy, as follows: The animal's degree of consciousness is such that it comes into the world without at every moment setting the world over against itself (as we do). The animal is IN the world; we stand IN FRONT OF the world because of the peculiar turn and heightening which our consciousness has taken. So by the 'Open' it is not sky or air or space that is meant; they, too, for the human being who observes and judges, are 'objects' and thus 'opaque' and closed. The animal or the flower presumably IS all that, without accounting for itself, and therefore has before itself and above itself that indescribably open freedom which has its (extremely fleeting) equivalents for us perhaps only in the first moments of love, when we see our own vastness in the person we love, and in the ecstatic surrender to God." (Where the text was italicized, I used capital letters instead.)

    So the discussion from the other day about breaking out of narrow rooms seems to complete in this Elegy with a full embrace of the animal's Openness, a sense of being and participation and welcome which is a full assent to life, like a flower fully unfurled to the music of the sun ... And in the Sonnets, Rilke discovers that that welcome is not only of life but death, too, as the song of Orpheus is transformed into Poetry by the loss of Eurydice.

    Kolembo's fine comment about these lines from the Eighth Elegy being "distilled" is perfect, when you consider that Rilke began the Elegies in 1911 and then wandered a decade in the wilderness of their silence, unable to complete what had begun shouting in him. Europe had to die before he found the words which completed them, opening a wide enough gap in his being for him to hear the songs entire. A long distillation, fer sure ... - Brendan

  4. i think Rilke captures masterfully our prejudice - we are not able to see things without being hindered by all the glasses, formed through experiences and values, collected on the way. maybe more than anyone else he longed to see without standing in his own way.. he makes me want to see..

  5. I have missed these Rilke reflections for the past few weeks, but it's great to return and find these moving words today. At first reading, I felt a little discouraged by the notion that reflections of the Open are always darkened by us, and that it is our fate to stand forever in our own way. On second reading, however, my spirits were lifted by Rilke's redemptive words: "Except when an animal silently looks us through and through."

  6. it's a curse and a gift to see things through filters. the filters themselves are signposts to learning more about the human condition and then especially towards escaping that same condition! steven

  7. I got: what we create maybe shadowed by us.
    We may stand staring at the form of what we have created, alternately appreciating what is- and asking: what is left to be done. The animal coming upon this scene might assess whether we are hunting it, is it edible ? mostly it seems
    they would want to know if we ( and it) pose a danger,are a threat to them...

  8. I remember not too long ago standing about 30 feet away from a mature Doe. We gazed at each other in silent communion for a few minutes. She seemed not at all frightened or concerned by my presence, and was still standing, watching me as I got into my car and drove away.

    In some way, at a level I do not know yet, there was communication.

  9. I really like your blog and awarded it a memetastic award ... see for details.

  10. Oh, how we darken and close and shut ourselves down, while Nature simply IS. Thanks to Brendan for his illuminating commentary--elegy number 8 has become tonight's required reading...

    Earlier I was reading Mary Oliver. Her "With the Blackest of Inks" is "The Panther". Rilke blooms everywhere!

  11. and here he is trapped.

    it is a gentle hand to know he oscillated between the frequencies.


  12. Oh no never say so!! Not forever in our own way surely?? Not, forever?
    Perhaps for the first eighty years??


"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!