Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rilke and Maso

Bid the last fruits to ripen on the vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days . . .
~ Rainer Marie Rilke ~

Some of my favorite passages from Rilke's
Letters to a Young Poet

p 4 . . . works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life . . .

p 7 . . . write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty -- all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

p 8 . . . for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world's sounds -- wouldn't you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.

pp 33 - 35 . . . If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

. . . have patience with everything unresolved in your heart an . . . try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into answer.

[See my essay "Mental Beauty"]

pp 42 - 43 . . . be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama, that is always stretched tight between parent and children; it uses up much of the children's strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn't comprehend. Don't ask for any advice from them and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

and from Carole Maso's novel AVA

p 32 . . . If we are lucky, when we are young, we learn that we must die. In this department I was lucky.

pp 42 - 43 . . . And I have come to relinquish that most modern of stances: uncertainty. I am certain now of what will happen. . . . And so perhaps the inverse too is true. While it absolutely seems certain that the party is over -- who can know such a thing for sure?

pp 63, 73 . . . Because we can still translate black marks on a white paper. There's a code on the page that can take you places. . . . In a geography book, I fell in love with the world.

pp 69, 79, 83 . . . You just played the odds, as if there was a choice. . . . We just took our chances, as if we had a choice. . . . And I am happy for any of this. That we lived at all.

p 89 . . . to love with a vengeance is our best defense.

p 100 . . . The essence of wandering in the wilderness.

He is on the track of Canaan all his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when on the verge of death. This dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life, incomplete because a life like that can last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses fails to enter Canaan not because his life is too short, but because it is a human life.

Gender Equity

Rilke: pp 77 - 78 . . . someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

Maso: p 37 . . . All the personal pronouns -- j/e, m/on. m/a, m/es -- are split to emphasize the disintegration of the self that occurs every time women speak male language.

Singing People by Debra Frasier
from On the Day You Were Born

I wonder if Rilke would be disappointed to see what a lengthy and hard - fought transformation it has become? I appreciate Maso's description of the so often unacknowledged and wearying disintegration. First comes the exclusive language; then comes the taxing enterprise of pulling yourself back together again, putting yourself into the picture, the self - integration that is not a given. Like hearing "father" and thinking "and mother." Or "brother" and "sister too." "Men" -- "and women." "Mankind" -- "oh yeah, that means me."

I think the beautiful song "Let There Be Peace On Earth," (sung here by Gladys Knight in 2008 at the National Memorial Day Concert, Washington, D.C.) is a perfect example of what Maso is talking about here. I've loved this song since Junior High when we sang it in Girls' Chorus (emphasis added for irony!), but it requires some mental gymnastics to repair the damage done by the gender exclusivity of that key phrase:

"With God as our Father, brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony."

These words are chosen as a fitting observance of a National event, yet by their very nature, they omit half the people in our country. Okay, I can fix that in my head; but should I have too? I can try to believe that "when you say "men" you mean "women" too; that doesn't always work. But one thing I know for sure, without Gender Equity, there is never going to be Peace on Earth.


  1. To go along with Rilke on being happy about your growth: "When people submerge their feelings in order to preserve harmony, they undermine the integrity of a relationship. They buy peace on the surface, but underneath there are hurt feelings, troubling questions, and hidden hostilities just waiting to erupt. It's a costly price to pay for a cheap peace, and it inevitably leads to inauthentic one says anything "unsafe." They never discuss misunderstandings, reveal hurt feelings, air frustrations, or ask difficult questions...Offences occur, but nobody talks about them. Doubts about the other's integrity creep in, but they're never dealt with. In time such relationships deteriorate."--Bill Hybels

  2. In one of the letters ~ from Rome, on October 29, 1903 ~ Rilke writes: "I do hope that the package hasn't been lost--unfortunately, the Italian mail service being what it is, that would not be anything unusual."

    A funny coincidence because the preceding evening, I had typed up for my friend Herman a favorite humorous passage from Henry James: "These Italian trains go at about the rate of an American funeral." _Portrait of a Lady_ (1881; Chapter 32, p 271)

    The very next day I picked up Rilke's _Letters_ only to come across yet another joke about the Italian trains.

    Apparently the Italian train service has been notorious from the very inception of train travel! Ha!