Today, standing inside the festive gate of this new year, I take pleasure in announcing a gift for all my blog friends: a new blog with daily readings from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. This project has been launched by Ruth of synch-ro-ni-zing and myself out of the appreciation we both feel for the beauty and many insights we find in Rilke’s writing. It is based on the recently published collection A Year With Rilke (translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, Harper Collins), which features a short daily offering of excerpts from his poems and letters. For Rilke, letter writing was the workshop for his poetry and something he took extremely seriously, as becomes quite clear when contemplating the staggering volume and remarkable depth of this facet of his literary output. He spent an astonishing amount of time in that epistolary workshop, penning some 11,000 letters during his relatively short life (1875–1926). The blog will also include images of photos and paintings that bear some relation to the German poet, his life and writings, friends and social and cultural milieu. It contains a link to a biographical piece on him from The Poetry Foundation.
Neither Ruth nor I make any pretense of being experts in Rilke. Speaking for myself, though I had been familiar with bits of his poetry and fragments from his widely and deservedly celebrated Letters to a Young Poet, it was only quite recently that I began to delve into his works “seriously” (pronounced ponderously with one arched eyebrow and graven voice). And how rewarding it has been! Rilke is one of those poets, like, say, Mary Oliver, whose magic goes beyond the sheer beauty of their verse. More than a poet, he seems to be a guide to how to be in this world, how to see, feel and engage intensely with our immediate surroundings, latching our senses onto the beauty that abounds everywhere and everyday, exploring the continuous and limitless opportunities for appreciative amazement. In this sense, his poetry is based on a supreme magnification and intensification of things, not on an exquisite delectation of philosophical ideas, as can be seen in the “thing poems” (dinggedichte) in which he set himself the task of taking down every word of the “dictation of existence".
But you are better off reading this from the poet himself, not from me, so I will include some quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke below. As was modestly stated by the young poet addressee of Letters to a Young Poet, Franz Xaver Kappus, in his introduction to that memorable book, “when a truly great and unique spirit speaks, the lesser ones must be silent” (all of the following quotes are taken from The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke, another highly recommendable collection of his writings thematically arranged by translator and editor Ulrich Baer into a sort of user’s manual for life).
♫ The possibility of intensifying things so that they reveal their essence depends so much on our participation. When things sense our avid interest, they pull themselves together without delay and are all that they can be, and in everything new the old is then whole, only different and vastly heightened.
♫ Seeing is for us the most authentic possibility of acquiring something. If god had only made our hands to be like our eyes —so ready to grasp, so willing to relinquish all things— then we could truly acquire wealth. We do not acquire wealth by letting something remain and wilt in our hands but only by letting everything pass through their grasp as if through the festive gate of return and homecoming. Our hands ought not to be a coffin for us but a bed sheltering the twilight slumber and dreams of the things held there, out of whose depths their dearest secrets speak. Once out of our hands, however, things ought to move forward, now sturdy and strong, and we should keep nothing of them but the courageous morning melody that hovers and shimmers behind their fading steps.♫ Yes, for it is our task 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.
♫ Most people do not know at all how beautiful the world is and how much magnificence is revealed in the tiniest things, in some flower, in a stone, in tree bark, or in a birch leaf. Adults, being preoccupied with business and worries and tormenting themselves with all kinds of petty details, gradually lose the very sight for these riches that children, when they are attentive and good, soon notice and love with all their heart. And yet the greatest beauty would be achieved if everyone remained in this regard always like attentive and good children, naïve and pious in feeling, and if people did not lose the capacity for taking pleasure as intensely in a birch leaf or a peacock’s feather or the wing of a hooded crow as in a great mountain range or a magnificent palace. What is small is not small in itself, just as that which is great is not great. A great and eternal beauty passes through the whole world, and it is distributed justly over that which is small and that which is large; for in important and essential matters, there exists no injustice anywhere on earth. Art is childhood.
♫ Whether you are surrounded by the singing of a lamp or the sounds of a storm, by the breathing of the evening or the sighing of the sea, there is a vast melody woven of a thousand voices that never leaves you and only occasionally leaves room for your solo. To know when you have to join in, that is the secret of your solitude, just as it is the art of true human interaction: to let yourself take leave of the lofty words to join in with the one shared melody.
So, please go visit the blog (via the link on the sidebar or here) and join Ruth and myself in beginning this new year with a daily dose of Rainer Maria Rilke. The year that has just closed was my first full year as a blogger and thus very special for me. And I look forward to 2011 with great enthusiasm as we continue to share the secrets of our solitidues, our solos and our melodies here, at A Year With Rilke and on all of your blogs.