January 26, 2011

The Great God Sleep

That great god Sleep: I yield to him all greediness for time. What does he care about Time! Ten hours, eleven twelve — if he wants to consume them in his silencing and privileged way, let him. Alas, I seldom manage to retire early; evening is my time to read. Seductive books, aided by the improbably intensifying noises of the old house, usually keep me awake till past midnight. The personal errands of a mouse in the thick walls of some yet-to-be-cleared inner room deepen the mystery of the endless surrounding night.

Letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé
January 13, 1923


  1. "...The endless surrounding night" -- I, too, am enraptured by it, endlessly.

  2. this one seems a little "off-beat" from what I've read of Rilke, but never-the-less seems perfectly fitting.

  3. I wonder about this relationship. I've long been fascinated by Lou Andreas Salome, a psychoanalyst in her day and friend of many fascinating people, much loved by Nietzsche.

  4. I smiled at that mouse of his that keeps him awake . . . and thought of our mouses connected to our computer lives.

    If you're interested, Elisabeth, there is a longish article embedded in her name below her photograph that might interest you. She sounds like a unique soul who truly created her own story. Rilke had a lifelong love affair with her (though their physical affair lasted only two and a half years), as well as Nietzsche, as you say, and others, mainly Paul Rée (and married Karl Andreas). Freud was her friend. I imagine you would find fascinating material if you explore her life, on feminism, eroticism, narcissism, and her underlying philosophy that through man's various expressions is a longing for oneness with God. You can see how much she and Rilke influenced each other.

  5. Like Ruth, I too had an appreciative chuckle over "the personal errands of a mouse in the thick walls of some yet-to-be-cleared inner room". Yes, even in the deepest sleep-mystery, such mice remain every busy with their errands.

  6. i wonder what happens if you take this entire piece and fire it into the realm of metaphor? hmmm. steven

  7. It's refreshing to learn that even Rilke, with his time-consuming passions, needed "sleep that knits up the ravel'd sleeve of care." As with everything else, of course, he uses poetry to penetrate its inner mysteries. Like other commenters, I love the last line about the deepening "mystery of the endless surrounding night." And yes, Ruth and Lorenzo, the mouse can distract us from sleep as we pursue our personal errands "in the thick walls of some yet-to-be-cleared inner room."

  8. I love my evening reading time... and I love my sleep time just the same, perhaps even more.

  9. Perhaps 'the personal errands of a mouse in the thick walls of some yet-to-be cleared room' can be read alongside Keats' Sonnet to Sleep, in which he appeals to sleep:
    'Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards/Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole'.
    I simply love 'I yield to him all greediness for time'.


"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!