Monday, June 17, 2013

Of writing and a review on the life of a poet

I have been experiencing a sort of pause in my writing project lately. It is not due to the notorious "writer's block" syndrome, but my own need to walk away from it to acquire some fresh thoughts and re-orientate my mind. I write from a place of passion and emotion and memories. Yes, everything I write comes from my inner world. I have never been able to write otherwise. Objectivity and impersonal forms of composition just refuse to happen for me. I have attempted in the past, but it was always like a boot that never fit. So, naturally, it is a commitment to invest myself in that place of emotions and experience. However, in this way, writing is both exhaustive and rewarding. It is my outlet.

 Lately, I have taken to studying a bit about the life of the bohemian-austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, known for his works of Duino Elegies, Sonnets of Orpheus, and Letters to a Young Poet. The funny thing is that I never came across his poems during my highschool studies. It wasn't until last year that I stumbled across his work online and found it resonating with many strands of my own heart concerning themes of love, loss, suffering, tragedy, and sanctification. Like most poets of his time period (the late 19th century), his life was touched by sorrow, abandonment, and failed relationships. However, the first thing that struck me about his writings is that they are redemptive, unlike most post-Romantic poets of his time. In a period, when philosophical thought was drifting towards Modernism and Existentialism, Rainer-Maria Rilke, although considered an early Modernist writer, appeared to have embraced a more positive philosophical approach to life. There is a humility in his writing that seems to embrace suffering and darkness, not merely for the sake of accepting it, but for its redemptive purposes on transforming and growing a soul. While Rilke believed in the existence of a God, he was by no means a Christian. In fact, he rejected religion, and yet, he, like many of his time, made Art his religion. Nevertheless, Rilke's poetry, letters, and various writings contain beautiful Christian imagery and concepts. His compositions are very much spiritual in nature, depicting the creature (man) seeking fulfillment, healing, and intimacy with something Divine, something that will transform. Sadly, "whenever Rilke writes about God...he is not referring to the deity in the traditional sense, but rather uses the term to refer to the life force, or nature, or an all-embodying, pantheistic consciousness that is only slowly coming to realize its existence." (source) He believed in the creative and transforming power of art, and due to being unable to accurately reflect God in his poetry, he invested himself into transforming life into art. Nevertheless, it appears that skeptisicm, failure, and fear still gnawed at the foundations of his being, in his art, his identity as an artist, and in his life. While I have not read enough of his works to make a full analysis of him and his writing, I can say, from what I have read, that, even in his depravity and darkness, it seems very apparent that his soul "sensed" that Love is the ruler, author, and healer of all. He seemed to embrace (and encouraged it in others as well) the tragedies of life, finding peace not in striving for answers to life, but in resting and acknowledging trials, pain, and sorrow as a means to being transformed, sanctificed, and becoming are true selves. As I have read through some of his poetry and letters (which are, by the way, incredibly romantic, dark, expressive, and contain strong imagery), I cannot help but have a bittersweet awareness that Rilke was very close to grasping the heart of Christ in a world marked by vain toil and raw pain. He was so close to understanding the beauty of a Resurrected Savior. He was so near to touching the Cross dripping with the blood of our Lord. And, yet, from the historical accounts that I have read, he never surrendered to the Creator of the very precious, true, and spiritually-Biblical themes and values that he upheld. His restless soul, being made in the image of God, as we all are, though never receiving the life of Christ, understood our capacity for Love, our need for Love, and appeared to hold to some sort of idealized concept of Love which was very much a reflection of Christ, though he did not acknowledge it as so.      
He wrote, "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." 
 I believe Rilke to have been very "in-tune" to the needs of the human soul and the innate desire we have for a place of "soul-rest" from the struggles of identity, shame, sin, sorrow, man-made religion, and man's quest for the meaning of life. In his Letters to a Young Poet, he instructs a young man on life and love in a rich, personal way. It is in those very letters that we get a more intimate look into Rilke's deep understanding of enduring through trials, allowing one's heart to become quieted and humble while awaiting the fruition of life from death, and the significance of human life, even one's own self. These letters are beautiful, having read them myself. Some days, I have read certain excerpts over and over again (particularly from his 8th letter to the young man he is instructing) because of the sweetness found in them. I cannot help but see a reflection of the Divine in his letters. His words are gentle, profound, and rich, not merely in a self-help counseling sort of way, but because there is a peace in them from a man who grasped part of the reality that, "though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Oddly enough, in his 2nd letter to the young man, he confesses that, of the two books he always carried with him, the Bible was always by his side. It is quite obvious that the Scriptures deeply shaped him, even though he appears to have never acknowledged and received Christ. I suppose we can only hope that the holy, intimate words of our Lord birthed new Life in him, despite what historical facts say.
 Well, I am compelled to share one of his poems, which is a translation from German, titled, I Am Praying Again, Awesome One.

 You hear me again, as words
 from the depths of me
 rush toward you in the wind.

 I've been scattered in pieces,
 torn by conflict,
 mocked by laughter
 washed down in drink.

In alleyways i sweep myself up
 out of garbage and broken glass,
 with my half-mouth I stammer you,
 who are eternal in your symmetry. 
 I lift to you my half-hands
 in wordless beseeching, that I may find again
 the eyes with which I once beheld you.

 I am a house gutted by fire
 where only the guilty sometimes sleep
 before the punishment that devours them
 hounds them out into the open.

 I am a city by the sea
 Sinking into a toxic tide
 I am a stranger to myself, as though someone unknown 
 had poisoned my mother as she carried me.

 It's here in all the pieces of my shame
 that I now found myself again.
 I yearn to belong to something, to be contained
 In an all-embracing mind that sees me
 as a single thing.
 I yearn to be held
 in the great hands of your heart - 
 oh let them take me now.
 Into them I place these fragments, my life
 and you, God, spend them however you want.

I could analyze different sections of this poem in reference to Scripture, but since my bed-time draws near, I shall have to let it go. But, one of the reasons I love this poem so much is that it has a very "prodigal-son" point of view. And when you have spent much time with a real-life prodigal son, I can honestly say, a great affection for them forms in your heart in a way you never knew to love before. It is a love that loved them even in their arrogance, to their pig-slop, to their stumbling and desperate begging for a second chance.

 Well, all this to say, I find myself inspired by Rilke and his writings. His letters have been a sort of guide for me in the personal narrative I am now working on. In fact, one of the passages from his letters will be in the foreward of my little book. His words help me to put my own sorrows and experiences into creative text.

 Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life. - R. M. Rilke

 Looking up from my book, from the close countable lines
 into the finished-full night outside
 how in starry measure my packed feelings scatter
 as though a bouquet of wildflowers
 were being untied...
 R.M. Rilke


  1. Great post, Erika. Found this very insightful and interesting. It's so sad to hear of people who almost grasped the divine, but fell short. It's so tragic... but as you said maybe somehow he did come to know Christ before he died... you just never know. His work really does seem to reflect someone who is a Christian.

    The poems you shared are all beautiful. Really enjoyed reading.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. :) Yeah, that is true. His life and work are pretty incredible to study. Glad you enjoyed his poetry, too!