“I’m a spirit that has come a long way. Try to destroy me, you’ll find I’m permanent. I’ll live on …./….
I am the goddess of all things. I am about to give birth
to beauty, migrants, savage light of every kind. /….“
~Alice Notley, from Eurynome’s Sandals, in The Best American Poetry 2010.
I am one of those people who have strange falling-domino-like experiences in my life. I find breadcrumbs, figuratively speaking, much like those in children’s stories to help them get home; except, my breadcrumbs are usually leading me forward into an unknown. These falling-domino breadcrumbs are specific events that link together and lead me down a certain curiosity-filled path.
The experiences resemble stories of the ancient Greek Oracles, Roman Deities, the Christian God, or the Hand of Fate. Each one symbolic and representative of the human experience where an Unknown Other works to mold the destiny of man. My goal, in the next several posts, is to share these experiences with my readers.
I was barely twenty-one when I experienced my first major ‘breadcrumb’ trail that felt like an otherworldly intervention. It started with the television show, Beauty and the Beast. Not the children’s cartoon, but the “monster-under-the-tunnels-of-the-city-made-for-prime-time” adult version. I watched the show during the three seasons it was on and enjoyed the storyline and the romantic episodic readings of poetry. I didn’t think much more about it until a year down the road when I was rummaging through a music store’s clearance shelves and came across a soundtrack tape of the show. I bought it and listened to it regularly. Eventually, curious about the strange and beautiful poetry, I looked-up the names of the writer’s and poet’s listed on the tape. This led me to the name of poet Rainer M. Rilke.
Now, fast forward another few months down the line: I’m standing in a bookstore looking at a book of poems on the shelf by Rainer Rilke. I immediately feel a bright “ah-ha spark” of recognition and believe I’m supposed to read his work. I bought Letters to a Young Poet and Uncollected Poems that day (with a follow-up of Sonnets to Orpheus and Stories of God a few months later). These books, quite literally, changed my life by leading me into the area of poetry as emotional catharsis and artistic expression.
As a child of ten, I had a wonderful experience with a poet who came to teach at my school. He introduced poetry as a fun game, which I loved. I became enthralled enough to write a poem that was eventually “published.” Poetry was fun with words for me. I was attracted to poetry for a few years, but the type of playful-fun poetry I’d known disappeared.
My teen years had their share of dysfunction, confusion, and pain; but those traumas lent themselves to essays more than poetry.I ended up writing the typical I-hate-life and the-world-sucks type of stories for awhile, but no poetry. Poetry evaporated from my daily life. My twenties came, bringing with them a divorce, the effort to raise two small children alone, and dismal job opportunities that barely paid enough for us to live – poetry was the furthest thing from my mind. And then … I met Rilke.
It really was like that when I opened Letters to a Young Poet and started reading. Suddenly, the man Rilke was a living, tender breath, talking to me through passages like this:
…love your solitude and bear the pain of it without self-pity. The distance you feel from those around you should trouble you no more than your distance from the farthest stars. Be glad that you are growing, and realize that you cannot take anyone with you; be gentle with those who stay behind. ….. Find in a true and simple way what you have in common with them, which does not need to change when you yourself change and change again. When you see them, love life in a form that is not your own, and be kind to all the people who are afraid of their aloneness. (Worpswede, July 16, 1903 – Letters to a Young Poet)
What a truly beautiful encouragement! A poetic paragraph filled with the essence of the man, his voice speaking across the years to another in search of solace, as he gently gives of his understanding and wisdom. What wonderful advice to live by during a divorce – this perspective allowing room for the differences and the understanding that things must change, but that change need not happen filled with hate and malice at its center. Instead, a way of looking at the personal element of change in a new light that holds new hope for the future.
Perhaps the greatest element of Rilke’s work is his ability to find compassion for the self and others, and to then transmute that ability to his reader. He is a timeless voice of wisdom speaking across the years and cultures of the world:
I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer. (Worpswede, July 16, 1903 – Letters to a Young Poet)
Reading Rilke is like stepping off the end of the earth, falling through the noise of modern life, and then landing in a cloud-like place of whispered mists and delicate beauty. This timeless quality breathes in all his work be it poems, letters, or stories. The presence of the poet Rilke is ingrown, deeply twined throughout the words and writing, his spirit defying separation. The work is Rilke and Rilke is the work – this is the red meat and open entrails of the poet as he speaks his truth in a moment of existence. His creation out of chaos bringing prophecy and immortality together in a few specific lines:
I am, you anxious one.
Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t me longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?
I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time. (The Book of Hours I, 19)
Rilke explores the Unknown Other that we all try to define in his poetry. Forsaking an effort at definition, Rilke delves into the actual presence and characteristics of the Unknown Other. His work doesn’t try to fit the artistic experience with labels, rather he walks with the deities and gods, allows them to speak as they will, asks them the questions we all want to ask: what does it mean? Why am I here? Are you real? His questions pay homage to the vast possibilities within the misting chaos while accepting the audience, the reader, as a fellow traveler in search of understanding.
This is the heart of poetry, the conjoining of poet, poems, and audience into a simultaneously gigantic and tiny wholeness. The poet speaks intimately with us and we with him, but in a mystical way he can also speak to all and we can hear the all giving its answer. Poetry, at once present and modern, also lingers elsewhere in a primordial state of rawness and blood.
It is in the oddly mysterious falling-domino breadcrumbs that I find amazing things waiting just on the other side of chaos. And, maybe it’s simpler than what we imagine, maybe it happened just as the Pelasgian creation myth says it did….
In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos….
Have you ever had your own “falling-domino breadcrumb” experience? Would you like to share?
How do you see poetry? What does it mean to you in this moment of time?
Have you ever read Rilke? What are your thoughts on his work? Favorite passages?
Artwork EurynomeJanto.jpg courtesy of www.paleothea.com.
For more information on Eurynome, please visit: www.paleothea.com or Eurynome at Wikipedia
For more information and/or to order books by Rainer M. Rilke, please visit the following sources:
Rilke Bio at Poets.org Rilke Books at Amazon Rilke at Wikipedia Rilke at PoemHunter.com