Rainer Maria Rilke
How shall I still my soul so it won’t stir
against your soul? How shall I lift it over
you, elevate it toward other things?
Oh, I would like to leave it with whatever
is lost and wasted in some unfamiliar
dark, hidden spot that never rings
in answer when your deepest places do.
Yet everything that touches me and you
takes us together in the way a bow-
stroke draws a single voice out of two strings.
What is this instrument we’re stretched upon?
Who is the player that has us in his hands?
Such a sweet song.
(from New Poems, trans. Tracy Ryan)
A rejection of "Order" in its relation to power and fascism, aesthetically & otherwise
Doing some background reading while working on Rilke's poems, I came across an article about his so-called Milanese letters, in which in 1926 he expressed an admiration for Mussolini and fascism. Deeply disturbing – so many great poems, but a dubious person -- as Clive James wrote, "no paragon of humanity", or elsewhere, more colloquially, "[i]n many respects Rilke was a prick". (As an aside I don't have time for here, James's wider-context comments provoked much discussion and disagreement.)
I have been thinking a lot about "Ordnung" or "order", here in Germany, immersed not in Rilke's country (he was born in Prague when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) but in his language -- or one of his languages... Even in the "Love Song" above, whose ironies have to be appreciated, there is a sense of wanting, if one is to have a relationship, a clear, clean, unmessy one -- seeking purity of self (a kind of Ordnung too) which seems afraid of empathy. While working on my translation I also wrote a kind of response -- ringing or singing further, a "weiterschwingen" to the "schwingen"... which seeks to reject this obsession with Ordnung and its relation to fascism.
Disordered (a poem in response)
“so mächtig und ungeduldig ist mein Verlangen nach Ordnung”
“so powerful and impatient is my desire for order”– Rilke, Milanese letters
Over and over the same thing
just a matter of innocent repeating
and all will be uniform
Never mind the ragged edges
that improbable moon
will soon be full again
trailing disorder but in a manner
wholly cyclical, so sickening
to find in nature and “human nature”
the justification of your own desire
though I cannot love chaos either –
these are two halves of the one
circle, each das halbe Leben, a face
beaming back at you what you project
and I reject the aesthetics of clockwork
too, the metrical turn – I want to happen
across words like a finishing, fallible
streak, one more minor disintegration
among the millions and who cares if we are
out of order so long as we can love each other
not fearing reverberation like strings on your
violin, nor longing for dark and silent spaces
but giving a big bright fiddler’s hickey to
whoever holds us and is playing us if he’s there