Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poems From a Poet's Soul 3

This person left the bench... December 2010
I suppose if there is one thing particular to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke is that it is nothing short of existentialist in its expression and in its significance.  This poet lived at a very experiential level and reflected profoundly on that lived experience.  However, his musings are no mere speculations couched in poetic or lyrical terms.  In fact, his poems are not musings at all.  They are an attempt to come to grips with the reality that life faces each living being with.  That reality involves ageing, illness, love, hate, breakdown of relationships, and facing our own finitude in our various frailties and in our very extinction in death.  And so Rilke's poems are always real.  Love is never that false, ersatz or schmaltzy Hollywood love.  Rather it is a vibrant alive love often tinged with sadness and sorrow.  For Rilke as for the great pre-Socratic Milesian philosopher Heraclitus reality is a balance and a tension of opposites: good/evil, joy/sadness, life/death, day/night,  light/dark and black/white.  The path up the hill and the path down are one and the same path as Heraclitus put it, and I feel our poet Rilke would agree.

This evening I offer a very short existential poem for the reader's edification.  It is a startlingly simple poem about love, but it is a passionate love rendered somewhat fragile by the images of death in life that abound around it.  This is sheer existentialism at its best.  The themes of finitude, mortality, freedom and determinism, the transitoriness of life, and yet passionate love can only exist in this wonderfully frightening and yet inspiring poem when it is coupled with its opposite state, that is, extinction in death.  And yet we know that our poet was a spiritual soul who believed in a God who created this mysterious world.  Be that as it may, Rilke is at his best here in this poem wherein, like all his poems, he offers absolutely no didacticism, no doctrinaire stances, no easy answers and absolutely no dogma.  In fact he both uplifts us and frightens us at the same time, which, to my mind, is at the heart of all existentialist writing, because simply that is the nature of such writing - it presents us to ourselves as we are, warts and all in our finite, oh so mortal garb as beings with a finite beginning and a finite end who are travelling through a world that will outlast us.  Today's poem is called "Again and Again, However we know the Landscape of Love."

Again And Again, However We Know The Landscape Of Love

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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