April 24, 2011

Hours of Childhood

Bather with Outstretched Arms

...Oh hours of childhood,
when each figure hid more than the past
and no future existed.
We were growing, of course, and we sometimes tried
to do it fast, half for the sake of those
whose grownupness was all they had.
Yet when we were by ourselves,
our play was in eternity. We dwelt
in the interval between world and toy,
that place created from the beginning of time
for the purest of actions.

From the Fourth Duino Elegy


  1. 'out play was in eternity'?

    Should that not read 'our play was in eternity'?

    The dreams and the despair of childhood are themes I have been playing with much of late. Thank you Lorenzo for a timely read of Rilke, from that place created before the concept of time and in the purity of intention most Holy.

  2. Thanks for catching the typo, Andrew. Fixed!

  3. Something about this trope on childhood -- as well as the image by Cezanne -- speaks to me of a state of consciousness which is primal, pre-historic, primitive perhaps, where all Becoming lies ahead. It is pure Moment -- "the interval between world and toy" -- a womblike space and freedom which there is a powerful human ennui for.

    For men, sexual ecstasy is an erasure of boundaries, re-entry, if for only a moment, back into that Womb (ladies, you'll have to fill in the female side of that experience, but I wonder if it involves bearing a child, the aggressive lover become mewling babe at the breast).

    Childhood was likened by Robert Bly once as a golden ball which puberty and then adulthood - the growth of a self -- chips away at til its only a golden memory, an Eden where "play was an eternity." Writing the Elegy, Rilke finds a way back there, to that suspended, perfect Moment where I and Thou and World were one. - Brendan

  4. ". . . our play was in eternity. . . — oh I long for this. I long for life as play, for one thing. To address every encounter, every task, not as chore, but as an open moment of curiosity and pleasure. And I long for being in the eternal moment, when linear time does not tug and pull me either to the past or to the future.

    Maybe in my longing there is longing for the timeless state of consciousness, Brendan, that is embodied in the desire for sex, fertility, childbirth, and nursing at the breast. I don't know if the urge for all fertile things is an instinct that comes at this moment in a life (readying for grandmotherhood?), or if it is a spiritual awakening that lay dormant and sequestered inside empty religious doors (from your poem "Ends and Beginnings" — "Their new Rome was built of empty doors, /
    A dry high womb empty of shores"
    ) so long, that everything in me rises up while it also sinks deep into earth.

    When I look into a newborn baby's eyes, I am looking for eternity, that they were so recently embedded in. What code do they know. What wordless message can they speak to me?

    When Rilke ends with "the purest of actions" I feel that ultimate desire, to be whole, in this moment, timeless, utterly one with the soul's desire.

  5. "we dwelt
    in the interval between world and toy,
    that place created from the beginning of time
    for the purest of actions".
    i spent time in a kindergarten recently and played with the children who will be in my last class in six years. it takes no time at all to be drawn into the sacred space of play . . . the colours, the sounds, the feelings, the suspension of time, the not-knowing of the rules of the world, it floods back in. interestingly, it isn't a place of safety and security. there is considerable hazard when you are available to the entirety of the creative moment. that's the great beauty of it. steven

  6. Yes, eternity is found in play, which keeps us in the present moment — play in that "interval between world and toy" (a wonderful concept) where we find our purest selves and take our purest actions.

  7. Purest of actions
    I remember childhood as a time of certainty. There were no greys. I felt equipped to understand, even if I needed more skill or information to get there.My catholic background gave me a set of rules and a process for applying them. At the time that seemed like enough.
    I also remember a very dreamy side, being surprised about things that happened in my presence. Was that the place "between the world and toy"?


"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!