Since 2013, no other poet has spoken to me and demanded a life lived fiercely with quiet intensity like Rainer Maria Rilke. I love his animals, his mysticism, his symbols, and his profound intuitive perception. I especially marvel every time I read the Archaic Torso of Apollo and walk away with a new meaning. Radical opposites compound, each without losing its essence. Perspectives are reversed from the viewer to the viewed, so we contemplate a statue’s discerning gaze that gleams with power. This gaze without a head haunts us with a simple, yet visceral last line: “You must change your life.”
I sense the beauty of Rilke’s work is that the poems begin from inside – out, unlike other poets whose approach might be outside – inside. And then there’s the magic that happens in the gap, the minus that allows something to come forth, which might be in the form of negations–what isn’t. I’m sure art historians and anthropologists have been concerned with the life of objects for many years, and now other disciplines are also beginning to pay attention to the work/artifact and see what text will be perceived from the object. Rilke was already here, there, and now we’re catching up, some of us, anyway.
Today being a calm, rainy and quiet Sunday in Ithaca, NY, I’m pleased to come across a friend’s facebook page with “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” which has refreshed my fascination with Rilke. I hope it speaks to you, reader, wherever you happen to be.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59
–Rainer Maria Rilke. Penguin Publishing, 2005.