April 1, 2011

The Olive Grove (2)

Olive Grove, by Vincent van Gogh

They would say no angel came.

Why angel? What came was night,
moving indifferently amidst the trees.
The disciples stirred in in their dreams.
Why an angel? What came was night.

The night that came was like any other,
dogs sleeping, stones lying there—
like any night of grief,
to be survived till morning comes.

Angels do not answer prayers like that,
nor do they let eternity break through.
Nothing protects those who lose themselves.

New Poems


  1. It was the finches on the separate Galapagos Islands that convinced Darwin that evolution was afoot. How could one bird become twelve unique species identified from isle to isle? Traditional science had no answer for him, stuck in Biblical andc lassical theory. Based on what he saw, he had to think back then forward, divining in some weird combination of intuition and dream a pattern he would call natural selection, the adaptation and mutation of organisms toward their best.

    All that to say that this poem and the previous two show Rilke's mind evolving, processing a crucial New Testament scene not only with his imagination but with his poetic's divining-rod, getting to the truth of the scene as source and overlay of his own vocation which seemed religious yet was not, which required a radical re-interpretation of the angelic. The three poems move from a rather traditional version of the Last Supper to an interpretation of Jesus' intercession in the garden to this stunning recognition of the angelic as the "nothing that is." -- I especially take that last line to mean that angels are like dark matter, and that deliverance is not a sparing of oneself from fate, but rather, like Christ, to be delivered into the fire of fate. "Nothing protects those who lose themselves" -- So bloom recklessly!

    Fascinating the fast evolution of his thought in these three poems; perhaps what is best about Rilke is that he kept evolving, kept writing new worlds with words. The poetic process seems to demand that of every writer. You can see quantum leaps between versions of the same poem. Hedgewitch showed us that in her rondel "The Old Woman, Going." Ditto Ann Grenier (Knot In Line) in "Empty Heart." What is that process of natural selection in the mind which moves a poem (or a series of poems) between dimensions, chasing, like Rhiannon, the Angel's truest words? And always arrival is just an open door to another draft, another poem, another series, the ghostlike sense that, like Rhiannon, it is the Angel who is seeking us? - Brendan

  2. Thanks for these deep reflections, Brendan. I have nothing to say at this moment, having awakened at 3AM and numb of mind (though not empty of heart), except to paste Russell Edson's prose poem titled "Angels" that I found yesterday while I was researching a bit about prose poems, something our friend Rilke was quite adept at.



    They have little use. They are best as objects of torment.
    No government cares what you do with them.

    Like birds, and yet so human . . .
    They mate by briefly looking at the other.
    Their eggs are like white jellybeans.

    Sometimes they have been said to inspire a man to do more with his life than he might have.
    But what is there for a man to do with his life?

    . . . They burn beautifully with a blue flame.

    When they cry out it is like the screech of a tiny hinge; the cry of a bat. No one hears it . . .

  3. Thanks Ruth -- It would be great to assemble a Bestiary of Angels, poems all written about angels. What a dappled world I think that would be. I love how the angels in Edson's poem "burn beautifully with a blue flame." No wonder blue tinges all the mysterium I yearn for ... Brendan (p.s. I get up at 3 every morning too, to get in a couple hours of read 'n' write before the real day begins. That's why I'm usually the first hog in this trough, snouting and snorting happily away.)


"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!