Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Year with Rilke

My intention is to spend all of 2013, beginning on 1 January, with Rainer Maria Rilke.
by Charlie Leck

In a blog a few days ago, I listed the books that I received for Christmas this year and into which I’m very excited about jumping. One little item that Santa gave me, I forgot to mention. It’s a clever little book edited and translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows called: A Year with Rilke (Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke).

Macy and Barrows laid the book out with daily readings taken from Rilke’s letters, journals, prose and poetry. The entries begin on January 1 and run throughout the year. They look to be no more than a page each day and often a lot less than a page. I have not read much Rilke and I have always felt left out when some of my more literary and well-read friends talk about his work or quote him. Here’s my chance to get to know the fellow, at least, a little better than I currently do. In anticipation of enjoying my introduction to Rilke (1875-1926), I’ve also ordered (from my favorite on-line used book dealer, ABE (American Book Exchange), a copy of Letters to a Young Poet, and that ought to be here in a week or so. It’s supposed to be his most influential work and it’s much beloved by writers. It was also translated by Macy and Barrows.

The pair that presented this book to us also translated Rilke’s most respected and admired work, The Book of Hours. It was published when he was only in his twenties.

If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
      [Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours]

Reading the authors’ short introduction to their little book gives me some hope that I am going to like this Rilke guy and that I will find some philosophical and theological kinship with him.

Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark, I am forest.

You are a wheel at which I stand,
whose dark spokes sometimes catch me up,
revolve me nearer to the center.
      [Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours]

Who? What is God?
It is a question with which I struggle more and more in these aging, aching days. Rilke writes of God as the Unsayable and the Invisible. He is the Coming One. Rilke is acquainted with the world’s religions and he can bring to his poetry stories from Greek mythology, or the Bible, or from Budda and Mohammed to help us understand the God he is defining.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us
then walks with us silently out of the night.
                    [Rainer Maria Rilke, Love Poems to God]

Thus, I begin. I am entering another adventure with great excitement. The Earth is blanketed in white here in Minnesota and large (half dollar sized) flakes of snow are falling now and a strong wind blows them hither and yon. In this light of mid-morning the stars are invisible, but our loved-ones long gone are there, looking down upon us even in our most private moments. There is no embarrassment among those out there with the stars; and neither is there judgment. They are free of such things.

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