Who's turned us around like this,
so that whatever we do, we always havethe look of someone going away? Just as a manon the last hill showing him his whole valleyone last time, turns, and stops, and lingers -so we live, and are forever leaving. (70)
This book is an invitation to look above and ponder about your own existence. About what makes you feel happiness, what troubles the mind, what confuses the heart. What you need. Time is merciless and will not stand still.
Will you look at the stars tonight?
This book includes Rilke's most celebrated works: Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. The latter are masterfully written, faithfully portraying what a creative mind is capable of. They are also the most accessible part of the book. Written with a superb language, they are made of metaphors that express many emotions and reflections that define human beings. So I would recommend people to start with these sonnets first, and then tackle the elegies, a challenge in verse.
Like I said, this book starts with ten elegies. They contain an intense amount of mysticism. I wouldn't have like them if it wasn't for the fact that they are not like Sunday psalms but heartfelt manifestations of existential doubts and human suffering. So religion is also seen from a philosophical point of view. I think. That is what I understood, at least. Angels are a recurrent theme and they are used to express different thoughts, especially the contrast between their perfection and human flaws.
And if I cried, who'd listen to me in those angelicorders? Even if one of them suddenly held meto his heart, I'd vanish in his overwhelmingpresence. Because beauty's nothingbut the start of terror we can hardly bear,and we adore it because of the serene scornit could kill us with. Every angel's terrifying. (16)
Angels depict the distant and unbearable beauty that humans apparently will never reach on Earth. According to one of the notes in the book (I am extremely grateful for them, but they weren't enough), these angels have nothing to do with the angels of the Christian heaven. "The angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we are accomplishing, appears already consummated ... " (205)
There are also many images that portrays the fervent yearning for love in all its forms, but with more emphasis on the transcendental side of it, something that should define humanity. A spiritual experience that would elevate us all to where angels dwell without leaving life on Earth.
Hostilityis second nature to us. Having promisedone another distance, hunting, and home,don't lovers always cross each other's boundaries? (38)
There is too much longing in his writing. His heartbreaking writing.
O hours of childhood,when more than the mere past was behindeach shape and the future wasn't stretched outbefore us. We were growing; sometimes we hurriedto grow up too soon, half for the sake of thosewho had nothing more than being grown-up.Yet when we were alone, we still amusedourselves with the everlasting and stood therein that gap between world and toy,in a place which, from the very start,had been established for a pure event. (42)
But there is also hope. And a strong desire to achieve something greater. And so much more.
Due to Rilke's symbolism, this book doesn't represent an easy read, at all. His exquisite lyricism and the images he described left me in awe. Mostly because while reading Rilke, I wasn't reading anyone else. I am certainly not an expert but I found his poetical melody quite unique. I must say, I haven't read something so beautifully strange since my encounter with Rimbaud.
It is a cruel norm established by one merciless being: tormented souls are the ones that can bring beauty to everything they touch. While purging themselves, they convert their sorrow into beautiful images that delight every reader willing to be taken for an intrepid journey without knowing the destination. Perhaps, it is a cruel norm. Or a blessing in disguise. A blessing that transforms a man into an artist, something that lets him live without drowning in a loud sea of despair.
...we vanish in our feelings. (24)
After reading Rilke's poetry, I had an implacable feeling of smallness. The last two elegies are brilliantly written. And yet, I think there is still so much mystery surrounding these verses. Mystery I hope I can unveil the next time I read this book.
-This is a bilingual edition, so those who speak German will be able to appreciate Rilke's magnificent poetry without the intervention of another person.
-Painting: Marina Petro, The Guardian