March 24, 2011


 Man Stooping with Stick or Spade

Any angel is frightening.
Yet, because I know of you,
I invoke you in spite of myself,
you lethal birds of the soul.

Fated to be happy from the beginning of time,
creation's spoiled immortal darlings,
summits of the cosmos shining at dawn,
pollen from heavenly blossoms, limbs of light,
hallways, stairs, thrones carved from existence,
shields of ecstasy, shrines for delight—
and suddenly, each one, mirror:
where our own evanescent beauty
is gathered into an enduring countenance.

From the Second Duino Elegy


  1. The immensity of these lines are, well, terrifying: awesome and awful. Someone once likened the Elegies to the flight of birds, soaring and twisting and leaping and diving on winds of pure Being, the angelic realm. Have you ever felt the oppressive weight of Poetry, like giant standing outside of your house, gripping and shaking its walls as you sleep? The craft as vocation, the poet as a sinner in the angry hands of Poetry. That's the elemental sense I get from these lines, and the awful risk of invoking these angels. Easy, for a god, but with such imperfect equipment and awkward calibration, how do we go about the task? With daring and surrender and delight, Rilke sings to me here ... This is Rilke's biggest big-night music, bar none; he got the first flood of it in 1911 I think and then suffered a decade of war and wandering trying to find that frequency again. And the very greatness of it poisoned him, the salve of which were the Sonnets, the augment of everything earthly. Thanks for bringing this one forth from the most golden aerie of Poetry -- Brendan

  2. Brendan, your Rilke study, observation and poetic sensibilities bring so much to these readings. Thinking of the poet as a sinner in the hands of angry Poetry is a wonderful way to see these dramatic images!

    I found this reading touching, from the bedazzling images of the angels ("pollen from heavenly blossoms" !) to "our own evanescent beauty" -- which I picture in the earthiness of the Van Gogh paired here. I just love Rilke's attentions to this notion of the angels wanting to touch the earth.

  3. wow! a wholly different perspective on angels to that which i discovered upon reading these words has developed over the course of my life in my thinking. steven

  4. I thought it was a rifle, in his hands-
    poor suspicious man-poking under a ridge of wriggling grass. Then it was dinner; That is what he's after... See? that is what shining glimpses
    of angels and muses do- Out of the corner of our eyes, teaming with whisp's of color and bits like Rilke shared. Thanks.


"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!