April 10, 2011

Woman in Love

Rainbow, by Auguste Rodin

There is my window.
I awoke just now so gently, I thought I was floating off.
How far does my life extend
and where does night begin?

I could believe that everything
surrounding me is I,
transparent as a crystal,
dark and still as a crystal's depths.

I could contain within me
all the stars; so vast
is my heart, so gladly
it let him go again, the one

I have perhaps begun to love,
perhaps to hold.
Strange and unimagined,
my fate turns toward me.

What am I? Set down
like this in such immensity,
fragrant as a meadow,
moved by each passing breeze.

Calling out, yet fearful
that my call will be heard,
and destined to be drowned
in another's life.

New Poems


  1. The fear of drowning in all that vastness, all that unknown. Yet without that possibility we can't really call it life.

  2. ". . . so vast / is my heart . . " This whole poem rings true, from a woman's voice. I feel every word of it. Until the last stanza. This woman (me) does not fear being drowned in another's life. I wonder if many women do. He doesn't say it explicitly, that that is what "she" fears, but she fears calling out and being heard, and then being drowned in another's life. I have found that for myself and the women I have known, we have no problem being drowned in another's life. It is what calls us into love, to be consumed by another. Of course that isn't "healthy" and all that good stuff, but I really feel this is the natural way of a woman who falls in love.

    On the other hand, it is a man's voice, in my experience, to say and feel that fear. Of course this poet is a man, and of course him putting on the voice of a "woman in love" is just a conceit. He is really speaking for himself, I suppose.

    This sometimes (often?) mismatch of how women and men perceive being drowned in another's life at the start of falling in love—as fearful, or wonderful—I think is the source of much argument and grief.

    Rilke's ideas on solitude, and not intruding on one another's solitude, is foundational in this poem, I think.

  3. This poem is so incredibly evocative … love as rendering one incapable of distinguishing between oneself and the surrounding world, the use of perhaps in ‘perhaps begun to love, perhaps to hold’. And the idea of fate, strange and unimagined, turning toward me, that is, of my fate turning around and coming face to face with me (instead of guiding or propelling me or pulling my strings, as is the usual image), is rich, compelling and ‘perhaps’ downright scary.

    I was going to ‘skirt’ (good verb here) around the temptation of discussing this in gender terms. I have no little or no confidence in my capacity to say anything cogent about a ‘woman’s view of love’; before attempting that that I would probably have to come up with something coherent about a man’s view of love, and that would first require being able to express some reasonably convincing and convinced utterance about my own view of love. I wonder, were it not for the title and the wonderful accompanying drawing (another magnificent Rodin-Rilke pairing by Ruth!) and the “let him go” , if there is something that would make a reader think this is a distinctly male or a distinctly female view of love.

    Like Ruth, I perhaps think it is a hybrid view, perhaps beyond (or beneath) gender, a terrain I have always found immensely appealing (except in bed I guess). Certainly, there are parts of this that speak to me and seemingly for me, sentiments I can embrace, even recognize, as my own. The fear of drowning is most definitely one of them and, as Ruth reminds us, is something felt much less, if at all, by women than by men. I know it is always silly to generalize, but, hey, I started blogging out of a felt need to be silly in public so here goes … although I would like my ideas to be taken more as questions thought out loud than hard and fast pronouncements: I feel that, in general (with the clunky disclaimer implied by that term), women are less self-centered than men, have an easier time living for others than men do. Nothing original in that, but a corollary is the sensation I often have that for women love is an end in itself, while men tend to view love as the foundation for other things in life. If this difference is real, it may indeed be one of the sources of the “argument and grief” that Ruth mentions. Either way, I cannot get out of my head something I read from Proust recently, to the effect that “love, ever unsatisfied, lives always in the moment that is about to come”. Is this true? Is it more true for women or men or gender independent? Is Rilke’s fear of drowning related to the daunting challenge implied by wanting to surrender to love but not to a state of permanent insatisfaction?

    Well, I didn’t do a very good job of skirting the gender question, did I?

  4. This was a tougher read for me than most. I think Ruth is right about Rilke's own need for solitude intruding into this poem, but I also feel that it is more an expression of an individual personality than a (forgive me) "genderalization." That first stanza,
    "How far does my life extend
    and where does night begin?"
    is so essentially female

    "so vast/is my heart" could be anyone in love,
    but as Lorenzo points out "so gladly/it let him go again." Back to Woman. But then the fear, the all-consuming "What am I?" which is everyone's question: set down in the immensity of life, unsure of purpose, of ourselves, of the Other...
    Until that crucial, final stanza: will my cries be heard, am I destined to be "drowned in another's life." Perhaps that is the fear of the young man standing at the altar (not that this anywhere advocates marriage), thinking "what the **** have I gotten myself into?" Why can a woman not feel that, too? I was reminded of the doctor's wife in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway: Lady Bradshaw. "Fifteen years ago she had gone under. It was nothing you could put your finger on; there had been no scene, no snap; only the slow sinking, water-logged, of her will into his." (p. 152)
    Maybe these are Rilke's own feelings, maybe they have been informed by the experience of Lou Andreas-Salomé or of the young woman for whom he wrote "Requiem". Maybe it is simply a poor choice of title by poet or translator, setting up "false expectations."

    Whatever, I do believe that Rilke, like Woolf's Shakespeare, wrote "man-womanly or woman-manly"
    the highest compliment she gave an artist, transcending gender so deeply at times as to reach archetype.
    Does any of this make sense? I think I just disproved myself (very well then, I disprove myself. Time for more coffee.)

  5. ds, rather than disprove yourself (or Lorenzo doing so either), you with your own voice lay bare the tug and pull and push from one side to the other that is individual in each person. We are each a spectrum. Truly, on any given day I am on one end of the spectrum of myself, and the next day I may bounce to the other end. There are not genderalities, thank you.

    Each of us, women and men, have varying degrees of need for isolation on one end, and absorption into another through love (or co-dependence) on the other. And that is just one way of looking at it, I suppose, in the complexities of relationship.

    It's really wonderful to contemplate these things in one writer who (perhaps like Woolf, from what Inge tells me, being immersed in the 700-page biography of her) engenders a broad range within himself.

  6. i've not read all of the comments yet but i am relieved at yours, ruth. i can't abide that last stanza either. in fact, upon reading it i thought, what naivety and perhaps, born of the time, certainly of the gender of the poet himself. the only way i could apply it to myself would be in child bearing, as motherhood does swallow the self, more than i anticipated, and it is a careful negotiation, between river and shore.

    but as with love, i say, bludgeon me with the hammer. take me, willingly. women, i believe, are like this, opening the collar to the knife, the mouth.


  7. lorenzo! oh! and ha! i love your evolving disclaimer. what do any of us know of love? upon reading rilke i just wrote in my drafts:

    i don't know a thing of love.
    i don't know
    a thing.
    love is a landlord
    and me
    just a punk ass tenant.

    but your prompt by Proust! oh! that is like whiplash! my god, i think he's right. my god, i think he's right. (and the impact that this has on my own life!)

    OH! (what a morning! what a post!) ds! what can i say? i love it, she - disproving even herself. and with such eloquence. frig. i love what happens here.

    in the end i think the piece does oscillate between genders, as ds puts so well. i wonder how anyone can transcend gender, truly, but i know in moments i do viscerally in my living, and so it must be possible in writing.


  8. Oh yes, Erin. I can't help conflating your knife and mouth into: vampire.

    A point I would like to highlight in this most excellent discussion is the difference between the phase of falling in love and the time-worn love ds quotes from Mrs. Dalloway. Is there a marked difference between men and women when falling in love? Maybe not. Is there a marked difference between men and women after many years of marriage? Maybe not. But is there a shift at some point, when one or the other moves from annihilation into distance? I will speak in genderalities again, but I wonder if often a man's shift comes sooner than the woman's, and thus the problems begin. If many men feel as Lorenzo thinks they might, that love is a foundation of life, and for women it is an end in itself, then women are often left feeling overinvested, and men overintruded. Again, this could be true for either partner (and of course some partners are the same sex).

  9. I have missed coming here lately. It has been a whirlwind around our house. What capture my eye was the artwork! Love this style. I can't wait to settle down and read the past two weeks and all the wonderfully insightful comments. This poem is timeless, really. Woman can say they don't like this, but I feel it is the way most women love (and are made) to love - to give (immerse) themselves into the lives of those around them. Maybe that is why a mother's love is priceless. Usually the heart of a family is the mother... usually. I wonder if Rilke didn't consider his feelings (as I do think he is talking about his feelings here) a weakness.

  10. Have to agree that the last stanza is not a woman's voice, at least the fear of drowning in another. I think of Stevie Nicks' Sara: "Drowning in the sea of love /Where everyone would love to drown" and Anais Nin who wanted to be dominated and consumed by a lover. I feel that maybe that fear of calling out and being heard and not being understood, of that cry being misconstrued, that could be real, that I could feel. But, the drowning, the disappearing, the surrender, that is where the great opening up occurs, the connection to the other, the all that is/was/or ever shall be.

  11. Very nice work -- deep, fragile, engaging...

    Image & Verse

  12. I know that last stanza
    I live it, breathe it
    am it
    I do all the former says
    but in the end
    it is that last stanza
    that thought
    that drives the dagger of fear through my heart of want


"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!