Poetry Turnst(y)le: Rilke

Portrait of Rilke by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1906)

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was so immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials,
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

~

Rainer Maria Rilke was a German poet (1875-1926). This poem is taken from ‘The Essential Rilke: selected and translated poetry by Kinnell and Liebmann (2000). It is a bilingual collection, beautifully prefaced and presented. One of the things I particularly like is commentary and guidance about Rilke’s interpersonal influences, which makes it possible to see the inspiration he found in the art and work of his consociates, close friends and fellow artists – and to read these interpersonal relationships ‘into’ his poetry.

For example, his beautiful “Requiem for a Friend” – his monologue to the ghost of the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker. In the preface we learn that

[A]fter her marriage in 1901 to Otto Modersohn, also a painter, Paula Becker left him and went to Paris to devote herself to her painting. There she and Rilke met frequently – every day, during the time she was painting his portrait.  In ‘Requiem for a Friend’ Rilke makes reference to a painting of Becker’s e was particularly drawn to, done from a photograph she took of herself in a mirror, ‘Self-Portrait as Half-Nude with Amber Necklace.’ Then abruptly, for unknown reasons, Rilke broke off the sittings and thereafter kept his distance. Eventually, Becker reconciled with Modersohn, became pregnant, and, three weeks after giving birth to a baby girl, died of embolism’  (Kinnell & Liebmann’s preface, p. xi).

Background narratives such as this make something else of his poems and allow them to be read in conversation with the works of other artists – the portrait above is a perfect example.

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