March 14, 2011

Praise the World

Half Figure of an Angel (after Rembrandt)

Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the universe he inhabits you are a novice.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
Tell him of things. He will stand still in astonishment,
the way you stood by the ropemaker in Rome
or beside the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even a lament takes pure form,
serves as a thing, dies as a thing,
while a violin, blessing it, fades.

And the things, even as they pass,
understand that we praise them.
Transient, they are trusting us
to save them—us, the most transient of all.
As if they wanted in our invisible hearts
to be transformed
into—oh, endlessly—into us.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy


  1. Oh, I find that so beautiful, so moving. 'Show him what is ordinary' ... those specific details of the ropemaker and the potter ... then 'saving' these ordinary, transient things by interiorizing them, transforming them in our hearts. It just renders you almost speechless ...

  2. This is such a curious notion that Rilke developed -- that the Angel he was straining to reach with his "unsayable" voice was straining, equally, to hear what was most alien in those starry aeries: the human ordinary, small things. You can see the progression here out from the Elegies into the Sonnets, which are in such praise of those small things. Why wouldn't the Angel desire this ordinary music - a sound so resonant with yearning and desire -- those notes being so absent from H/Her absolutely-fulfilled being. Odd truth too that I believe, that our work is Their work and Their work is ours. - Brendan

  3. Robert! It's just glorious! And then . . .

    As if they wanted in our invisible hearts
    to be transformed
    into—oh, endlessly—into us.


    How can words do such a thing. I just feel transported.

    Brendan, it really is an extraordinary notion. I have mentioned here before, I think, that somewhere I read the very matter-of-fact statement, that angels envy humans their emotions, because they must live on an even-keel emotionless plane. This from Rilke today adds another layer, that they might also envy us our earthen existence.

  4. I don't know which is lovelier here, the words or the thoughts behind them. I am moved deeply, however, by the the notion that what we do best, as novices in the universe, is to simply call attention to the ordinary, that which has been shaped by hand and eye. And, yes, we must continue to praise everything, notwithstanding the transience of all.

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"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!