The Duino Elegies - Rainer Maria Rilke
The Duino Elegies are a trip to read if you're not prepared. According to an arbitrary goal set last January, I've been pushing myself during the last month to try and get in as many good books as possible. The Duino Elegies happened to be in the small stack Darling had set aside for me. So I turned on the side table lamp, picked up the next book from my pile, and curled up in a fat, afghan blanket in the corner of the couch. I opened to the correct pages and was struck, almost instantantly, (as if by lifted hand across the face) by the first stance of The First Elegy:
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
Admittedly, I don't know if you can be prepared to read it the first time--I mean, that's one hell of an entrance and Rilke makes no apology. I currently find myself in a space in my life where I am trying, hard, to evaluate and reevaluate what I'm doing, what I'm working toward. Where am I going, how can I succeed, what do I want the point to be? . . . In many ways I suppose it could be defined as my first existential crisis (of sorts). I'm beginning to feel the weight of the responsibility I have to myself to structure my life as I want it be, micro to macro. What does that include, and what does that leave out? To read Rilke is to shatter the world around you and allow yourself to transcend the mythology of daily human experience. Rilke acts at once as "artist, philosopher, psychologist, spiritualist," he holds up the mirror (as all good poets do) and exposes Us to ourselves.
And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
turned toward the world of objects, never outward.
It fills us. We arrange it. It breaks down.
We arrange it, then break down ourselves.
Who has twisted us around like this, so that
no matter what we do, we are in the posture
of someone going away? Just as, upon
the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, he turns, stops, lingers--,
so we live here, forever taking leave.
It's beautiful, melancholic, overwhelming and intrusive. As soon as I finished I had this desire to commit the elegies to memory and read them in German. After sifting through some reviews I see that my initial reaction to the text is not an uncommon one. I'm still processing, chewing. I'm moving forward with my reading this month but I will be visiting and revisiting Rilke. Much like religious or spiritual texts, I found with it a connection that I believe can provide some good and fruitful reflection.
Books. Words. It's amazing stuff, friends. It makes me feel like there's not enough time to take in all that is good and profound and fulfilling and enriching. Read, read with a ferocious appetite because there is so much to fill up on.