May 17, 2011

Brother Body

Good Samaritan (after Delacroix)

(in the sanitarium, in Rilke's final illness)

Brother body is poor...that means we must be rich for him.
He was often the rich one; so may he be forgiven
for the meanness of his wretched moments.
Then, when he acts as though he barely knows us,
may he be gently reminded of all that has been shared.

Of course, we are not one but two solitaries:
our consciousness and he.
But how much we have to thank each other for,
as friends do! And illness reminds us:
friendship demands a lot.

Uncollected Poems


  1. Yes, when the mind and the body become friends healing occurs.

  2. The tenderness Rilke utters for his brother body while lying ill is moving, and surprising, though I suppose it shouldn't be the latter at this point in my reading of him. Paired with the Van Gogh painting of the Good Samaritan I feel it even more acutely. There is something in that strong man, facing front on, lifting, feeling the weight and need of the stranger's body, embracing him in the lifting, that makes Rilke's words about one's body come alive even more. As Andrew implies, it is easy to divide mind and body. To not resist what happens as I age, to love and mother this old house I live in, even as my consciousness widens, is rather like being a rustic cottage nestled in green hills, organically part of a whole, even while the house crumbles a bit and mellows into an earthy scene.

  3. ruth your wise and kind reflections sit like a garden on the earth of rilke's poem. steven

  4. What are the lines from that Hollies ballad from the '60s? "He ain't heavy ... he's my brother"? Same sentiment here.

    Rilke had no actual brother, and his only sibling was a sister who died before he was born. (That may be why Mama dressed Rilke as girl til his was six years old.) So I read this as an address to Brother Body, the Brother of the Spirit who also resided inside the Poet. As brothers they are in essence inseparable and are responsible for each other.

    For Rilke, the spirit was usually willing, but the brother body was weak. He was a hypocondriac, frequently sick. His mental vicissitudes -- sickness too of Brother Body -- were such that he felt the curing of them a vatic, not psychological task. (As I've said here before, he famously refused psychotherapy.) It was taking a sort of "cure" at Duino that the Physician arrived, in the lines of the First Elegy ...

    Fantastic these lines:

    Of course, we are not one but two solitaries:
    our consciousness and he.

    He would say the same thing of Love in Letters to a Young Poet, saying the highest human achievement in Love so far "is when two solitudes protect and border and greet each other." I and Thou: lover and beloved: brother body and brother spirit: Soldiering on, supporting each other through thick and thin, discovering the value of relation (and relationship) as an eternal value which melds into so many temporal liaisons. Deep, but not heavy. -- Brendan

  5. strange, how to entities so together, so in need of each other can be so far away and seperate at the same time. says much, as they work together pretty well.


"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!