Thursday, September 29, 2011
Rilke: I have many brothers in the South/Ich habe viele Brüder in Sutanen
I've been touching the subject of blackness and stillness earlier. I have known Rilke for a while, but haven't really read that much of him. Why? My rather lacking skills in German as well as a lack of Norwegian translations of the works I am most interested in. I know there are quite a few English translations out there, but being a speaker of a Germanic language, an English translation just isn't the same as a Scandinavian one.
My interest for this poet has been ignited, though. Funnily enough through an English translation made by Robert Bly.
What attracted me is the following:
im Süden, wo in Klöstern Lorbeer steht.
Ich weiß, wie menschlich sie Madonnen planen,
und träume oft von jungen Tizianen,
durch die der Gott in Gluten geht.
Doch wie ich mich auch in mich selber neige:
Mein Gott ist dunkel und wie ein Gewebe
von hundert Wurzeln, welche schweigsam trinken.
Nur, daß ich mich aus seiner Wärme hebe,
mehr weiß ich nicht, weil alle meine Zweige
tief unten ruhn und nur im Winde winken.
* * *
I have many brothers in the South.
Laurels stand there in monastery gardens.
I know in what a human way they imagine the Madonna,
and I think often of young Titians
through whom God walks burning.
Yet no matter how deeply I go into myself
my God is dark, and in a webbing made
of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.
I know that my trunk rose from this warmth, but that's all,
because my branches hardly move at all
near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.
* * *
This piece is part of a longer poem from the work Das Stunden-Buch or The book of Hours.
Strange when you recognise so much in a few words, that someone across time can express something so recognisable to you. Rilke is a Northern European and as much as he likes and admires the southern style of worshipping through "burning" paintings, Madonnas and the like, he sees that his own depths are different. They are dark, a web of a hundred roots that drink in silence. That sentence alone opens my being to this poet.
There is a word in Norwegian (and German) which doesn't have a good correlate in English, which I think this poem reflects. The word is "inderlig" (German: innig) - an adjective or adverb, and "inderlighet" (innigkeit) - noun. What does this describe? A kind of intense personal longing, passionate, with a melancholy side to it - and very personal or even private. The longing is not necessary to this word (begriff), but I put it in this attempt to explain to get at the intensity this word describes. Also, "passionate" gives off rather too warm connotations. Innigkeit/inderlighet has something cool in it - hence the whiff of melancholy.
I understand only too well how he knows his trunk rose from the warmth of the southern cultures, but that up here, in this Northern European consciousness, it is cooler, sharper, and in a strange personal way more intense. Take Luther - the reformation of the Roman Catholic church began in Germany. Not a coincidence. Your relationship to God is deeply personal. Rilke's God is dark (dunkel) and drinking cool water from a deep well. This is the sense I get. The silence, darkness, the sinking feeling of an immense depth - all part of a strongly "inderlig" relationship to yourself and at the same time your god. The sentence "Doch wie ich mich auch in mich selber neige" / "Yet no matter how deeply I go into myself" also points to a Northern European tendency - that of turning inwards, of contemplating silently on your own, in an innig way. His branches growing out of his trunk embedded in the warm, southern history and mindset hardly move at all - they only wave a little in the wind. Why is this so recognisable? The whole image he gives off just fits with a sense I have of ground, of what I rest upon, spring from. A cultural layer, I believe, that easily can be mistaken as a personal layer.
Look at the man's eyes and you can see the darkness, depth and stillness centred. I think maybe only this picture would have made me realise he is a poet to my liking.
And thank goodness for bilateral translations! Now I can learn a lot more of the German language, via English. Kind of ironic, but effective. It is possible to wish to learn a language fully because of an author you like. T. S. Eliot with Dante, J. L. Borges with Ibsen. Rilke definitely tickles that bone in me.
My God is dark, and in a webbing made of a hundred roots, that drink in silence.