April 28, 2011

Being Ephemeral

Two Women in the Moor

Does Time, as it passes, really destroy?
It may rip the fortress from its rock;
but can this heart, that belongs to God,
be torn from Him by circumstances?

Are we as fearfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Can we ever be severed
from childhood's deep promise?

Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.

We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 27


  1. yes, no, yes, yes
    or so it seems to me in ink blot style
    I had trouble moving beyond the first question having never thought of time as destroyer. but I think it builds and destroys simultaneously out of necessity. the destruction being foundation for a tomorrow drawn on hope.
    I love the way he makes me think deeply but softly.

  2. I suspect it's not time that destroys, but what goes on during its passing.

    There are some tricky ideas here, Lorenzo, but as ever they're beautifully expressed.

  3. Rilke might as well be writing about his roses here, his truest mentor in crafting a poem's ephemeral bloom. For Rilke, roses were the consummation of mortal yearning, things of such ineffable beauty and thorniness as to symbolize, in fullest fashion, the trackless forest of the human heart. That they flourish for so short a season and then falter just makes them more intimate with human life. Poetry too comes and goes, flourishes and then withers on the stem; that it exists for so short a season only makes its flourishing more magical, here and then there in the mouths of singers who are here and then, like Orpheus, gone.

    If he had lived in our age, Rilke would have had a rose tattooed over his heart, thorns and all: Back in the third decade of the 20th century, it sufficed tp have them serve as his epitaph:

    Rose, O pure contradiction , joy
    of being No-one’s sleep, under so
    many lids.

    Their beauty, his: his verses, bouquets of rapture and wonder for the world. Ephemeral yet eternal, divinely human.

  4. a beautiful and thought provoking passage. i will print this out and carry it to work in a secret pocket, find a quiet corner to visit with it and think. as lc says, rilke makes me think deeply but softly.

    time, i think, is the muscle itself that both tethers us and sets us aloft. it's a very curious thing. how it may or may not connect to god is another thing entirely.


  5. "...could we be used by the Divine / if we were not ephemeral?"

    How else but through birth, death, and rebirth do we understand?

  6. This really is a tender contemplation of an often frightening truth of impermanence. Rilke has been changing my attitude about death so much, I almost don't remember being afraid of it. Maybe I never really was, but it must be in me somewhere, that fear.

    Is Orpheus' "fortress" his beloved Eurydice? And the poet as Orpheus asks if his own heart can go on without her? In the last stanza, is he asking, In MY striving I thought she would last forever, but could she be used by ME if she were not ephemeral?

    Does that make any sense to see this that way?

  7. And I don't mean "used by me" in a negative, manipulative way, but used: loved, inspired by, driven by, as muse, etc. The elusive muse is, um, elusive, ephemeral.

  8. Well, to go back to the story, Orpheus succeeds in singing Eurydice out of Hell -- but in his haste to look upon the face of his beloved once more, he glances just a tick too soon and breaks his deal with Hadesl; Eurydice fades back into death, forever irretrievable.

    In his striving Orpheus MEANT to bring her back forever, but what sort of song could exist in such permanence? It was by losing her - twice -- that the song became immortal.

    My sense of that final stanza that the heart is immortal -- it belongs to God (first stanza) not because it has permanence, but because it doesn't. Love, life, song comes and goes: if it didn't, how could there be any distinction in infinity? Just a solid wall of white noise.

    BTW, in Ovid Orpheus spends a good while mourning for his twice-lost wife; then renounces love of women to become a priest of Apollo (he takes up with young boys, too, who I guess represented a more permanent youth). The maenads of Dionysos are the ones who wreak vengeance upon the singer's renunciation of mortal things and mortal life (he also spurns their invitation into the rites). He is summarily ripped asunder, his lyre and head floating down the river Hebrus and coming to rest on the isle of Lesbos. There the head pronounces oracles and songs so loud that Apollo, in irritation, shut it up with a bolt. So much for permanence.

    Rilke thought his Elegies were the permanent deal, but he was surprised by the sudden eruption of these Sonnets in praise of the Ephemeral. - Brendan

  9. So the heart is unending, and maybe that's it. Nothing else is. Picture all of our heads going on singing, in spite of the loss of bodies. Sort of sweet if they're not ripped off heads, but just singing heads that miraculously live/sing on.

    Does heart = god? Or,

    Does God express her song through our hearts, ergo, our heart's song is god (eternally)?


"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!