Monday, March 18, 2013

Rainer Maria Rilke

I've been on a wee bit of a Rilke-kick this past week, mostly because (i) I realized I finally knew enough German to read him in the original (well....mostly. As for my ongoing hopes of reading Goethe, Thomas Mann and the first Harry Potter in German, don't ask); and (ii) I was recently visiting my sister-in-law, who often speaks with admiration about RMR, especially Letters to a Young Poet, and I decided it was high time I investigated her claims. (For the record, sis-in-law is usually spot-on in these matter. I heart sis-in-law. Are you reading this, sis-in-law?).

The Rilkefest has thus far been a twofold daily celebration for me: at night before sleep I curl up in bed with a hot water baby (uh, I mean bottle) under a thick duvet and read a few of his poems in both languages,  sometimes alternating languages with lines, sometimes by stanza, and sometimes whole poems first in one language then the other.  I have found in so doing that (unsurprisingly) the German radiates in a wholly different way than the English ever could (e.g., consider this stanza from "The Three Kings":

Drei Könige von Unterwegs
und der Stern Überall
die zogen alle (überlegs!)
so rechts ein Rex und links ein Rex
zu einem stillen Stall

You needn't understand the German-- just reading it aloud is a wondrous experiment).
I have also found in alternating languages that (surprisingly) I prefer a few of his lines in their English incarnation.  This has left me feeling weirdly conflicted: is it still Rilke that I am loving? Or the translator, who has become in the act of translating herself a poet? I digress...)

The other daily Rilke-infusion (and indeed the reason for the present post) occurs during my morning commute where I have been devouring Letters.  Today I read a particular passage relevant to the blog which caused me to pause and think. (Indeed, sis-in-law was correct. I find myself stopping to ponder nearly every sentence in this dear little collection. I find that, to borrow RMR's own phrase, "es fluten Wassertiefen im Aquamarin").

Rilke writes in his letter to Kappus on 14 May 1904*:
"Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body, and who, presumptuous and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves.  This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she will have stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status... [S]ome day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being."   
Your reactions?


* pp.40-45 of M. D. Herter Norton translation, 2004 edition.

1 comment:

  1. Reading! What a beautiful quote. Love a poet who writes prose, men who write so thoughtfully and graciously of woman, and a seeing soul who draws us into the uniqueness and gift that woman is to the world. Thank you for this E.


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