Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sonnet 6
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Edward Snow

Is he native to this realm? No,
his wide nature grew out of both worlds.
They more adeptly bend the willow's branches
who have experience of the willow's roots.

When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
on the table: it attracts the dead--
But may he, this quiet conjurer, may he
beneath the mildness of the eyelid

mix their bright traces into every seen thing;
and may the magic of earthsmoke and rue
be as real for him as the clearest connection.

Nothing can mar for him the authentic image;
whether he wanders through houses or graves,
let him praise signet ring, gold necklace, jar.

It's the birthday
of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, (books by this author) born in Prague (1875). His family wanted him to be a lawyer and take over his uncle's law firm. But he published some sentimental love poetry, and it inspired him to make his living as a writer. He went to Munich to be part of the arts scene there, and he met a woman, Lou Salomé. She was brilliant, she had been friends with Nietzsche, she was 15 years older than Rilke. She took the young poet under her wing, helped him develop as a writer, and persuaded him to give up writing sentimental poems and become more ambitious. He followed her all over Europe. When they broke up, he traveled around and seduced rich noblewomen who would support him while he wrote. He wasn't too handsome, but he was poetic and romantic, so women fell for him. Then he met another older woman, the Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis. She thought he treated other women badly and refused to be seduced. But they became close friends and exchanged hundreds of letters, and Marie let Rilke stay in her castle in Trieste, on the Adriatic Sea. He loved it there, at the Castle Duino, and one winter while he was living there alone, he said an angel appeared. The angel started talking to him about life and death, about beauty and humanity, and Rilke went right to work on what turned out to be his most famous poems, The Duino Elegies, 10 long verses.

In Letters to a Young Poet, he wrote, "You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now."

And he said, "The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things."

Lifted from The Writer's Almanac

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