June 26, 2011

Charged with the Transfiguration of All Things

The Peasants' Churchyard

How all things are in migration! How they seek refuge in us. How each of them desires to be relieved of externality and to live again in the Beyond which we enclose and deepen within ourselves. We are convents of lived things, dreamed things, impossible things; all that is in awe of this century saves itself within us and there, on its knees, pays its debt to eternity.

Little cemeteries that we are, adorned with the flowers of our futile gestures, containing so many corpses that demand that we testify to their souls. All prickly with crosses, all covered with inscriptions, all spaded up and shaken by countless daily burials, we are charged with the transmutation, the resurrection, the transfiguration of all things. For how can we save what is visible if not by using the language of absence, of the invisible?

And how to speak this language that remains mute unless we sing it with abandon and without any insistence on being understood.

Letter to Sophy Giauque
November 26, 1925


  1. I was just thinking this morning, before reading this, how we grieve the losses of what has been, what we have been used to. It is a wonder to envision these lost things seeking our inner spaces so that they can be transmuted through us. How else will they be witnessed? I recall that someone said, "How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?"

  2. we are always catching up the future which is this moment and which is gone. our hands are invisible and yet we raise them in Hosannah. we are driven to, tiny motors of living.

    i am startled by how Rilke says everything here and nothing at all. this is how we live, doing everything, doing nothing. here and gone and yet driven, tiny motors, trying to catch ethereal moths.

    just now it feels like Communion, receiving the wafer on the tongue. the wafer feels solid and yet it feels like air. it is gone before it is even received. something like this.


  3. Elsewhere we have seen Rilke express this idea that a fundamental duty of the artist is … to impress this provisional, transient earth upon ourselves so deeply, so agonizingly, and so passionately that its essence rises up again “invisibly” within us. We are the bees of the invisible. We ceaselessly gather the honey of the visible to store it in the great golden hive of the Invisible.

    This task of making the transient immortal and the visible invisible is simultaneously a thrilling challenge and a profound responsibility — in today’s reading we are charged with no less than “the transmutation, the resurrection, the transfiguration of all things”. In this connection, he likens us to cemeteries, to convents of lived things.

    In my mind, this notion seems of one cloth with Marcel Proust’s concept of lost time. The seven volumes of his monumental “In Search of Lost Time” is the result, he would have us believe, of the recollections of his childhood that come welling up in him, in his involuntary memory, upon sinking his teeth into a tea-soaked madeleine. The novel is Proust’s quest to answer the question where does lost time go? Is it dead forever?

    And part of his answer is:

    Dead for ever? Possibly.

    There is a great deal of chance in all this, and a second sort of chance, that of our death, often does not let us wait very long for the favours of the first.

    I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate thing, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.

    It is the same with our past. It is a waste of effort for us to try to summon it, all the exertions of our intelligence are useless. The past is hidden outside the realm of our intelligence and beyond its reach, in some material object (in the sensation that this material object would give us) which we do not suspect. It depends on chance whether we encounter this object before we die, or do not encounter it.

    Perhaps what for Rilke was the duty to transfigure and resurrect all things was the same as Proust’s mission to retrieve lost 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!