Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Letters from a Poet's Soul 4

Santry Wood,  December 2010
Letter seven is perhaps the most profound of Rainer maria Rilke's letters.  The most profound I say because it deals with the most important subject for humankind, namely the love of one human being for another.  We are all well acquainted with the truly famous quotation  from St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13: 1-13.  Many years ago I remember having to learn it off by heart in Greek for postgraduate Scriptural purposes.  It is a singularly beautiful passage in all languages, and I sometimes return to my Greek parallel text New Testament to reacquaint myself with Paul's melodious Greek.  However, having read this passage in numerous English versions, I love most of all both the Kings James and Jerusalem Bibles' versions.  Anyway read this passage in whatever version of the NT you can get your hands on even if it were only for the poetry of the piece.  Here I'll give the final few lines only:

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(I Cor 13: 11-13)
Indeed the greatest reality in the world is that of love, and I choose my words carefully here.  As I pointed out before this, only inter-relating or communicating beings can determine what reality is, for really and truly all reality is shared, and it is in the context of the mutual acceptance of that sharing that reality is defined.  This I will call my philosophico-psychological or psycho-philosophical appraisal of reality for me.  It is only in this context of inter-relating and communicating beings that love can be shared and can become real. 

However, having said this, I have previously in these posts referred to the fact that oftentimes the modern world overvalues some things (or indeed realities) while undervaluing other things (or realities).  I heartily agree with the late great psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Anthony Storr, who with Drs. Carl Gustave Jung and Ronnie Laing have long been personal heroes, when he said that the modern world has vastly overrated the significance of relationships in the personal development and indeed in the growth of creativity of the human being.  While they all recognise such relationships as being of a high order of importance, they are not necessarily of the highest importance in a human being's sense of self, feeling of well-being, self-image, self-concept or in the healthy formation of personal identity.  Storr underlines the critical importance of interests and hobbies and things as well as of relationships.  He also argues solidly for the the role of a healthy solitude.   See my posts on Storr's wonderful book Solitude.

Two swans in solitude in Santry Woods
Most interesting and very unsurprising, especially to this reader, is the fact that when Rilke examines the topic of love here he is at one with Storr and others who see the importance of solitude and creativity as well as relationships in the healthy mental development of the individual.  Rilke suggests that very often young lovers rush into relationships far too quickly and are simply not able for their profundity and end up tasting of their mutual brokenness only, simply because neither individual has had the sense or the patience to plumb or explore their very own depths in solitude.  Modern psychologists and psychotherapists speak about "intrapersonal" as well as "interpersonal" relationships.  The first person I read in this regard was Dr. Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences in Frames of Mind wherein he speaks of "intrapersonal" as well  as "interpersonal" intelligence.  By the former intelligence he means how much any individual knows and appreciates his or her own depths.  When we have learned to accept ourselves "warts and all" and when we have descended into and ascended anew from those deep internal pits of self, as it were, then and only then can we enter into true and real relations with another human being.  Then and only then my encounter with the other becomes my depth (solitude/soul/profundity) meeting dynamically with with the other's depth (solitude/soul/profundity).  I am well aware, dear reader, that this may be an over-simplification, but it is one I must make by way of underlining its import, and happily make it indeed for emphasis.  I readily admit that another human being can help me descend to some extent into the depths of my own soul and even lend a helping hand to me as I ascend the slippery upward slopes of the self-cavern.  However, "lend a helping hand" is the operative phrase, while most of this soul-journey to personal authenticity and to personal identity can only be done alone.

With these few remarks, I will now quote rather fully from this beautifully crafted and deeply rich letter:

It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time ahead and far on into life, is - ; solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent - ?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves ("to hearken and to hammer day and night"), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.


But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. . . . : And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love-life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.  (See this link here: RMR Letters )

To be continued.

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