Rilke's Duino Elegies--#9
Truly being here is so much.
cosmic dream radio , Episode 16
I know texts more consoling than scripture. They wrestle with the dark angels and never win. They can somehow bear the world as it is—I don’t say they don’t flinch, that they don’t cry out—but they take it: they embrace our transient world, they suffer, they love, and they sing.
I prefer the very-human poets vibrating like strings strung too taut between beauty and loss, to any text that lures me out of the world, or teaches me not to suffer with it. I am suffering. You are, too, if you are trying to stay truly alive. We can bear it.
If you are alone at cliff’s edge, beaten by a harsh salt wind, the ruins of the 11th century behind you, a steep rocky drop to the sea before you—I can think of no better company than Rilke, who, in just such a position, heard:
“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels? ”
That’s the first line of his first elegy written at Duino Castle in Italy in 1910.
All ten elegies were published in 1923.
Today I will read for you the ninth one.
have to be human?
Oh not because happiness exists
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart
But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again.
But to have been this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.
what on earth was I thinking?
It is difficult to read Rilke out loud. Consider the quote above…I omitted the lush extensions: the laurel which would have a heart, and the loving description of the particular green of the its leaves.
I did it to make stark the premise the ninth elegy argues.
I did not omit anything in the reading, of course. But I do have to follow the thought through the line.
I could probably do better at that. It’s like rehearsing a great role in a Chekhov play: to map the whole narrative arc out. I did so, but I would need more practice speaking it so it was clear, and yet natural.
Another thing that is difficult about reading Rilke out loud: he writes ecstatic mystic poems in solitude: they inhabit silence. They are a voice you, in silence, hear out of your own soul, as he did.
I recommend listening with good headphones. To give yourself an enclosure of silence in which a voice speaks.
Imagine the words tremor to be heard by the terrible angels whose language is the breath of the world-space in their wings.
read the entire essay here.
Angel image (an anonymous drawing, Florence, 16th century)
Listen to the poem without the intro on soundcloud:
sing, woman, sing. deer crash through windows. hell hounds want to play. this crappy bar? you've been here before. nothing's changed. let's turn this basement into a club. everyone's looking for someplace to go.