January 17, 2011

The Lute

I am the lute. When you describe my body,
its beautiful curving lines,
speak as if speaking of a ripely
curving fruit. Exaggerate the darkness you glimpse in me.

It was Tullia's darkness, which at first was hidden
in her most secret place. The brightness of her hair
was like a sun-filled hall. At moments
some tone from within me

was reflected in her face
and she would sing to me.
Then I arched myself against her softness
and what was within me entered her at last.

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Please click About the Images here or on the sidebar for information about the artists behind the images we post. There are currently summaries about Leonid Pasternak and Auguste Rodin, their connections with Rilke, and further links about them both. 


  1. By way of background, Tullia is thought to refer to Tullia d'Aragona, a 16th century Italian renaissance courtesan who played the lute. A brief description:

    "Tullia d'Aragona was born in Rome and raised in Siena by her mother. Like her mother, she became a courtesan, and like other courtesans who wished to move in the upper reaches of society, she was trained in music and literature. When she was in her mid-20s, she and her mother began to move from city to city; in the late 1530s they lived in Venice and Ferrara. In both cities Aragona interacted with the philosophic and literary elite, her home became a salon, and her writing began to be noticed …"

    The above was found here.

    I include the above even though I do not feel much background is needed to appreciate the beauty of this exquisitely sensuous poem. Here Rilke becomes the lute (feminine in German) lovingly entwined with Tullia, sharing darkness, brightness, tones, reflections, song and body. I wonder if W.H. Auden had this poem in mind when he quipped that Rilke was the greatest lesbian poet since Sappho? Though probably meant as a facetious witticism, depending on the optic you bring to lute playing, it could also be seen as very high praise.

  2. That background is helpful. I was reading about Tullia too.

    I am carried into a sensual, physical experience by this poem. (And the sculpture only encourages that.) But I am trying to follow Rilke’s advice from yesterday’s reading,

    Learn to forget you sang like that. It passes.
    Truly to sing takes another kind of breath.
    A breath in the void. A shudder in God. A wind.

    I think he is urging me away from a Neruda-esque reading of love here. Is the void in yesterday’s last stanza's lines the [exaggerated dark] Rilke speaks of in the first stanza today?

    Maybe in the social gatherings and fancy parties of the courts, Tullia’s brightness belied her dark void, where God (Rilke’s idea of God) was hidden. But when the lute plays, something from the hidden darkness comes alive in her face, when she becomes “one with earth and stars.”

    So, if my reading makes sense, what is this lute that draws out the exaggerated dark, the void where a shudder of God can be felt?

  3. I read it from the only perspective I can manage, through the filter of my own feelings of love both physically and spiritually. I find the exagerated darkness in the shadows of the fruit to be quite brilliant. Tullia holds such darkness, juxtaposed with her brightness. Don't we all? Rilke seems to be consumed with the polarity of all things, as there exists such balance within the depths of all, if we care to carefully examine. And so in love, in both physical and spiritual love, there is a communion between the lightness and darkness. He suggests only the darkness of himself within these lines, but isn't the love itself light? And too, he allows that he is beautiful.

    When we love, do we not wish to physically pour ourselves into our lovers? More than any hand to hand, or mouth to skin. More and more. Always more. What I was feeling last week when I wrote Closer.

    Perhaps I'm not explaining it well as these things are so often beyond words, but it does fall into existance in the shadows between Rilke's words. I pick them up and feel them in my mouth like pebbles that aren't actually there, but sure enough the glands in my mouth secrete around their being.

    As for the lute being feminine and Rilke being refered to as a great lesbian poet, I do believe that when this pure sexual communion is written of it transcends basic parts and becomes more of the soul, gender becomes either interchangeable or irrelevant.

    Rodin's Lovers is achingly beautiful. It almost hurts to see. It is a wonderful pairing, poem to sculpture. I wonder on the nature of his hands behind his back? It surprises me. I would have expected this to suggest a kind of holding back but instead it suggests to me rather a giving of the spirit. Rather than the man being hands in a bowl of dough, he is spirit in a basin of woman.

    A very beautiful way to bring in a new week. Thank you.


  4. Erin, that is so profoundly beautiful, I would rather be silent. But I also (polarly) want to respond. I'm reading the book Auguste Rodin that Rilke wrote (it's linked in About the Images). In this book, the reason he went to Paris, Rilke studies and explores Rodin and his great work. I've only begun the book, and I am savoring each bite-word, because his prose is so elegant and revealing. And the best part is what I hear you saying here. He is the one, the ONE, who can observe Rodin and SEE and EXPRESS, what it is the artist wants to gather in his work. The light that is behind the darkness. The pebbles in the mouth that can be felt but aren't there. The pure communion of the soul with another soul, and with Beauty.

    I will read your comment again and again, for there is so much in it to absorb, ending with that tremendous observation that the male lover in the sculpture is not holding back, but is giving his spirit to her, pouring into her that essence of light and love that Rodin, and Rilke, and you (and we all) are seeking.

  5. Wow! I hardly know where to begin. There is as much poetry in the comments and the Rodin sculpture as there is in Rilke's poem. I want to focus on the poem, but I'm afraid, with due respect to Rilke, that it is Rodin who has captured my attention. The composition speaks volumes — a man and a woman in their most intimate moment, but with the arms and hands of each extended backwards, as if to say there can be no grasping or possession in true love, only integration of two spirits — and, in the consummation of that love, Rilke tells us that what entered his lover was more than one might first imagine. What entered her was what Rilke found within himself.

    Thanks to all of the other commenters for your sensitive and thought-provoking observations.

    NOTE TO LORENZO: As a result of some technical problems, my efforts to reply to your most recent e-mail have failed. I am working on the problem and, hopefully, it will be resolved soon. During the meantime, rest assured that I appreciated your comments.

  6. i'm always humbled by the thoughtful and deep comments here. the words are gorgeous, lithe and erotic. beautifully chosen

  7. just read this and yesterdays. nice progression.

  8. The pairing of the image, which is riveting, and the poem is brilliant.

    That call to "exaggerate the darkness" seems a necessary antidote; love, after all, can blind us, make us not want to see other than "beautiful curving lines". But truth of feelings and thoughts - what comprises "tone from within" - inevitably shows up on our faces, even as we protest it in words; and that moment of recognition of what is revealed, and thus made known, forever bonds.

  9. Where's my ukulele? Oh, there it i--

  10. hmmm. I'm going to bring everything "down" a few notches and just say I've never seen my husband so interested in poetry before.

  11. I saw this post last night when it first posted. So many thoughts have run circles in my mind. First, amazing sculpture, no doubt. I too noticed the hands behind the back. Somehow that just makes it more intimate - more giving. And I think that is so key here. If you think of many peoples attitude towards sex today, well - it is about individual enjoyment. I'm sure Rilke didn't mean this to be interpreted as physically as I am here, but it really works for this day and age. The giving of oneself is turning over of the secrets inside - the beautiful AND the ugly. For someone to love us regardless. And the desire to give more than receive during sex. To give love, not just take pleasure for oneself. What is within should be love - or it really isn't beautiful.

  12. I love the conversation in the comments...lively!

    I think it's an invitation to allow yourself to be beautiful and desired...which is the ultimate vulnerability...to feel that sometimes we bond through the darkness and that allows us to feel the brilliance of light...to be the light..some people fear being too dark, some fear being too bright, and we often think we are alone in that, but connecting through that vulnerability amplifies joy...


"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!