March 31, 2011

The Olive Grove (1)

 Olive Grove, by Vincent van Gogh

He went out under the grey leaves,
all grey and indistinct, this olive grove,
and buried his dusty face
in the dust of his hot hands.

It has come to this. Is this how it ends?
Must I continue when I'm going blind?
Why do you want me to say you exist
when I no longer find you myself?

I cannot find you any more. Not within me.
Not in others. Not in these stones.
I find you no longer. I am alone.

I am alone with everyone's sorrow,
the sorrow I tried to relieve through you,
you who do not exist. O unspeakable shame.
Later they would say an angel came.

New Poems


  1. In "New Poems" Rilke really tackles the Bible, holds it squirming and bleating and then still in his hands -- straining to find the deity in its tales and tropes and ultimately failing to do so, at least in Christian ways.

    Wonderful succession of this from the previous poem. Rilke accounts the tomb forever empty, and though I think his refutation of Christianity is clear, I can't help read his identification of poet with Savior and their mutually empty task of trying to provide the comfort of a Presence they doubt exists.

    And yet in "New Poems" Rilke will find that the higher power he can't find turns out to be a deeper power, the divinity inside all Things. This, from "The Bowl of Roses":

    ... And aren't all that way, containing just themselves,
    if self-containing means: to change the world outside
    and wind and rain and patience of the spring
    and guilt and restlessness and muffled fate
    and the darkness of the evening earth
    out to the changing and flying and fleeing of the clouds
    and the vague influence of distant stars
    into a hand full of inwardness.

    Now it lies carefree in these open roses.

    Fortunate indeed for us that this olive grove was rendered empty ... - Brendan

  2. My god, Brendan, how I thank you for your additions. The revelations you bring here are tremendously valuable to me. Today, in his readings and your subsequent observations, I start to realize how much his story is my own. When did it happen? Have these hours spent with him merely substantiated my own utterings and inflections? Or have his words shaped me so much that I can't say if they are his, or my own? Maybe a person who has been through the complete immersion in Christianity as I have, who has also been through the gates similar to Rilke's (mine are tiny mouse-gates in his angel-gates) can claim this voice as her own, even if it is a little squeak that echoes from a corner in shadow behind a chair.

    Thank you so much, dear friend.

  3. or perhaps it is not about Christianity at all. i only suggest this for it seems rilke's words are often my own and i do not have this religious background, but rather, it is my own uneducated trail that has brought me here, to a similar denouement, finding the divinity inside all Things. i laugh, i quote brendan now more often than rilke, i think.

    while there is great denouncement in this piece of rilke's he relents that Later they would say an angel came. it seems that he believes all of his fitful turnings are just that, the turnings of man, for sooner or later the angel comes regardless.


  4. I think you guys are both right. The maternal soup of our culture is, along its upper leagues, Christian; below that pagan; below that animal, vegetable, mineral and then star-dust.

    Just my opinion, but Christianity began to die in the 12th century with the emergence of secular literature (the Grail Cycle, with its erotic woods) -- people knew that, because cathedrals were erected with a manic fury for the next 150 years, as if to keep God from escaping up into the clouds. The religion lived on with a certain stalwartness though the leakage has continued.

    My dad was a Presbyterian minister (though he morphed into a druid of sorts), and my mother has remained a devout fundamentalist: my youth had its evangelical hours -- my loss of that faith to me was simply in imitation of culture's slow loss of that faith.

    Rilke saw it keenly and was brave enough to say it. Rilke became myth -- his Orphic scatter our lonely present trail -- and he gifted us, with many others who found divinity beyond the empty grave of Christ -- in this life, this world. So, Ruth, it's easy to see how Rilke has become a savior of sorts for a post-Christian world.

    There are those, like Erin, who have been able to grow up completely outside the Church, something which could not have been possible a few hundred years ago: But the ghosts of the religion are in our education, our complexes, the folklore of salvation and redemption and eternal life (vampires are a blue strain of Christian myth).

    The relics of the religion are all about us, and still have magnetism and magnitude enough to fuck up any psyche. Maybe our language is still ridden with Christian bondage, setting male above female, man above beast, hiding heaven in the skies when its in the open rose. And like Erin says, the wonder is that in the nothingness we come to accept, the angel comes regardless. Great conversation, folks. -- Brendan

  5. Great, great points, both of you.

    The angel who comes at last, regardless, and what is that/she/he? I think of the angel in Brendan's poem about whales, that rides the interplay between male and female, or provides the bliss. Maybe Brendan and Robert and Lorenzo have iterated before what the angel represents to Rilke, at several posts, but my brain does not seem to hold the specifics, only the sense. Is the angel then the mystery, the messenger of god, the revelation of what can be, even as we find it within, the bringer of ecstasy, the revealer of what can't be seen or felt directly and singes us in our meetings . . . yet Rilke meets them head on . . . ?

  6. Here is an angelic theory set forth by Julian Jaynes in "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind": At an earlier stage in the evolution of consciousness (up to the end of the Bronze Age, ca. 2000 BC), conscious decisions in response to any disturbance in the pattern of the everyday were made by "the gods": auditory hallucinations in the right brain which were believed to Come From Afar - the voice of God.

    With the establishment of paleolithic agricultural societies and the resultant stratification of human settlement, the Voice began to fade. Priests and oracles took up the function as the gods removed themselves to the heavens. Religions are arks that disappearing voice. The consciousness which evolved allowed decision-making, a narrative sense of time and the subjective self: all of those qualities of the individual which is separate from God.

    The Voice has faded into the dominant consciousness of the age, but it's not gone yet. Schizophrenics have auditory hallucinations. Carole Brooks Platt has written extensively about how poets have an attenuation to that Voice (she asserts that its the result of several factors -- a genetic predisposition augmented by childhood trauma, usually in relation to the mother).

    I've mentioned here before the affect Rilke's mother had upon his poetic development. My suspicion was that the Voice was in Rilke's ear from very early on. Sometimes it was so strong that he said he did not write poems so much as "transcribe" them -- a helpless sort of stenography which was powerful because he welcomed it.

    It's only a theory, but Jaynes does show how The Angel -- for poets, at least -- is indeed the messenger of god. But no individual, in our modern sense, can simply act as a tuning-fork for the Angel. The Voice is subjectively mediated, between lobes of the brain, between the raw music and the interpretation of it we make with words. In that sense, a poet is just like a Delphic priest, or, in the language of Christian fundamentalism, gifted with the discernment of spirits, able to interpret what the angels are saying the glossalalia. (Ever hear a Pentacostal church break into a fit of speaking in tongues? I've spoken in tongues. It's like pissing out your mouth, this stream of unconscious water pouring out.)

    Finest in Rilke is his dual ability to both surrender to and wrestle with the Angel: to be a conscious participant, the Voice become poetry.

    You can download some of Platt's articles at . The first and third articles cited are excellent. - Brendan

  7. Somehow the URL of the Platts page got deleted. Here it is again:

  8. oh wow - what a comment thread... enjoyed the discussion..
    for me, no matter what it was - the core is that rilke was really, really struggling and i think it was faith - and he's so honest, writing down his feelings and his fight in a time when honesty wasn't that much welcomed when it came to faith matters. once again, i think in his weakness and brokenness he had a really strong character


"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!