The Poet’s Assent (An Ode to Rilke)

a9f03dab4540ebd5c3e9b4d0165571f2--rainer-maria-rilke-the-birdsThe poet Rainer Maria Rilke has been some sort of koan for me. February is the time of year that was a creative hurricane for Rilke, allowing him to finish The Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies in 1922. In one week, Rilke completed the unfinished elegies, and from February 2 to February 23, Rilke completed all the 55 sonnets of the two parts of Sonnets to Orpheus

He then wrote to his long-time friend, the inimitable Lou Andreas-Salomé, that he had finished “everything in a few days; it was a boundless storm, a hurricane of the spirit, and whatever inside me is like thread and webbing, framework, it all cracked and bent. No thought of food.”

In the fall I had thrown myself into trying to understand the heart of Rilke, his poetic motive, as it were. This is a poetic attempt to get at some of what I think he was up to and how he got there. In the meantime, I am still diving in.


“Incline a while,” she said with a smile.
A simple life, simply styled.

So with legs outstretched and peering into
the Poet’s mind and querying:
what’s this queer soul really hearing?
what’s this mirror really mirroring?

Seeing into things and Being
Into emptiness beauty fleeing

The whole of his heart’s work
from the hole in his heart works

because he dug and dug for days
he found upon his tongue a praise

Upon a summer solstice morn
on the eve of World War
a poet bent his inner ear
and found the point drawing near

Descended deep until he found
a limit to his seeing eye
no more secrets could be spied
until he looked with loving eyes

without it there would not be
the Sonnets or the Elegies

Only with that descending tone
could he ascend – not merely up
but with the whole earth on its throne
and with an ear so different bent
with drums began: “ASSENT! ASSENT!”

Only heart bent circling love
could form a praise upon a tongue
could a faithful Yes be a sung
like a song from morning dove

Only then the jailbreak
of those images locked within
and from behind the bars of time
the Poet affirms the world again

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