Sunday, December 05, 2010

Letters from a Poet's Soul 3

Boy in Snow: Santry Wood
At this point as I am reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, I am reminded of other great-souled (if I may coin a word!) poets like John Keats, Patrick Kavanagh and, of course, the inimitable Portuguese Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) who was poet, writer, literary critic and translator, and one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century.  Interestinly he was trilingual in Portuguese, English, and in French.

Pessoa shares a deep intensity with these other poets I've named and read.  All these poets burned with the intensity of magnesium, which once set alight literally becomes sun-like.  Perhaps as an intense person myself, I am burning with too much enthusiasm and passion here, but that is the seminal condition of any committed writer or composer.  So before, I turn back to Rilke's Letters, I'd like to begin with a small quotation from Pessoa:

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.
If any type of creative art is about anything it is about translating the orchestra played by the soul into all and every art form.  Philosophically I could argue that even sciences can share in the genius of the arts, especially as regards creativity, but that is a topic for another post indeed. 

In his fifth letter to the young would-be poet, Rilke says nothing whatsoever on the craft of writing, be that of poems or prose.  Rather, it is a short personal letter dealing with how he had not received a certain book from his correspondent by mail , and describing how his labours to seek a comfortable and suitable place to live and write, far away from the fret of city life.  However, being myself a frequent visitor to Rome and a lover of that particularly ancient (yet always new) city I was taken by Rilke's beautiful description of it, so I will repeat them here for the reader:

- but there is much beauty here, because everywhere there is much beauty. Waters infinitely full of life move along the ancient aqueducts into the great city and dance in the many city squares over white basins of stone and spread out in large, spacious pools and murmur by day and lift up their murmuring to the night, which is vast here and starry and soft with winds. And there are gardens here, unforgettable boulevards, and staircases designed by Michelangelo, staircases constructed on the pattern of downward-gliding waters and, as they descend, widely giving birth to step out of wave. Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in. (see this link here for all quotations from Rilke's letters: RMR Letters )

This is one of the themes that Rainer Maria Rilke returns to again and again in his letters.  He saw solitude as one of the essential conditions that could and would inspire the creative arts.  He needed that silence for his inspiration to enrapture him and pour itself out on paper.  Here are his words to the young poet Mr Kappus in his sixth letter to the young man.

"I've got a lovely bunch of snowballs," Child, Santry Wood, Dublin
What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours - that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grown-ups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing. (See above link)
He goes on to remind the young poet that it is essential for the creative writer or poet to re-capture not so much the innocence, but rather the wonder of childhood.  Patrick Kavanagh, out own rural Irish poet certainly managed to recapture the wonder of his childhood in many of his poems.  This is essentially what Rilke is recommending to Mr Kappus, viz., RECAPTURE THE WONDER OF YOUR CHILDHOOD!  Hence he continues:

Think, dear Sir, of the world that you carry inside you, and call this thinking whatever you want to: a remembering of your own childhood or a yearning toward a future of your own - only be attentive to what is arising within you, and place that above everything you perceive around you. What is happening on your innermost self is worthy of your entire love; somehow you must find a way to work at it, and not lose too much time or too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people....

It is like this everywhere; but that is no cause for anxiety or sadness; if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not abandon you; and the nights are still there, and the winds that move through the trees and across many lands; everything in the world of Things and animals is still filled with happening, which you can take part in; and children are still the way you were as a child, sad and happy in just the same way - and if you think of your childhood, you once again live among them, and the grown-ups are nothing, and their dignity has no value. (See above link yet again)
This letter is also one wherein Rilke argues the case for the existence of God as Mr Kappus had told him in a previous letter that he had somehow lost his faith.  Perhaps I will return to Rilke's arguments in another post when sometime in the future I wish to discuss the mystery of God from a philosophical point of view, with not a little theology and literature thrown in to spice up the recipe.  Dawkins' book and Alistair McGrath's response thereto both come to mind, both of which lie on my shelves awaiting my perusal, if not assault!  But that is for another day and another post.  Here I wish to confine myself to the arrts and to inspiration and to soul-building as I am most profoundly interested in things of the psyche and the spirit.

So there is a very deep world within us.  This is the world of the soul which Pessoa called a veritable orchestra, which we must seek to listen to and explore - see if we can hear a clarinet, a violin, a viola, a flute, perchance a triangle note blending, nay melding, nay compounding almost - what an appalling mix of metaphors - together.  Pessoa and many other creative artists are at one with Rilke on the depths of the soul which the artist seeks to harness.

And, then, of course, Rilke was famous for his great Thing poems.  Here he mentions the astonishing wonder of the sheer otherness of things, the sheer difference or thinginess of things which in their sheeer indifference (my word) or otherness are not subject to human despair.  However, this whole letter is tinged with a sadness, the sadness of how lost most adults in the world are to the mystery and wonder of their very being.  One can't help but think, if Rilke were still alive today he would be a psychotherapist of the Expressive Arts variety heralded by Professor Levine of whom I have written at large in recent poets.  Rilke, I should imagine in this personal fantasy as being a psychotherapist who would encourage the parenting of the young child within us.  Indeed, truly ther is nothing new under the sun.

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