Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter

Here is another Rilke poem.  I read it first in Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, as translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  Then I read through the German, mostly to appreciate the original words (Erlauchter, rauschender, bedrängte, jetzt), the interplay of e and i vowels, the consonance, the seeming levity that comes from rhyme.

Then, in an attempt to better understand the original, I went back and forth between a dictionary, Google Translate, and the Barrows-Macy translation.  This is the result.

(If that seems like a lot of slipshod work for little profit: it is enough for me to learn that Barrows-Macy rendered “ich war,” which is literally “I was,” as “I am” – removing the contrast between most of the poem and the last verse.  The rest of it may be a passel of mistakes; nothing like lazy translations to emphasize that language is 80% pronouns and prepositions.)

Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter,                    I pray again, you Illustrious One;
du hörst mich wieder durch den Wind,       do you hear me again through the wind
weil meine Tiefen nie gebrauchter               because from my unused depths
rauschender Worte mächtig sind.                mighty words are rushing.

Ich war zerstreut; an Widersacher                I was dispersed; to the adversary
in Stücken war verteilt mein Ich.                  my self was given in pieces.
O Gott, mich lachten alle Lacher,                 O God, I laughed all laughter,
und alle Trinker tranken mich.                      and all drunkards drank me.

Glass shards

In Höfen hab ich mich gesammelt                In courtyards I have gathered myself,
aus Abfall und aus altem Glas,                      from waste and from old glass,
mit halbem Mund dich angestammelt,          stammering to you with my half-mouth,
dich, ewiger aus Ebenmaß.                          to you, eternal in symmetry.
Wie hob ich meine halben Hände                  As I raised my half-hands
zu dir in namenlosem Flehn,                        to you in nameless entreaties,
dass ich die Augen wiederfände,                  that I might find the eyes
mit denen ich dich angesehn.                       with which I once beheld you.

Ich war ein Haus nach einem Brand,            I was a House after a Fire,
darin nur Mörder manchmal schlafen,          where only murderers sometimes sleep,
eh ihre hungerigen Strafen                           and their hungry punishments
sie weiterjagen in das Land;                         pursue them through the land;
ich war wie eine Stadt am Meer,                 I was like a city on the sea,
wenn eine Seuche sie bedrängte,                 pressed by a plague,
die sich wie eine Leiche schwer                  which like a heavy corpse
den Kindern in die Hände hängte.              hung the children in the hands.

Ich war mir fremd wie irgendwer            I was a stranger to myself as one
und wusste nur von ihm, dass er               of whom I knew only that he
einst meine junge Mutter kränkte,             once offended my young mother
als sie mich trug,                                     as she carried me
und dass ihr Herz, das eingeengte,            and that her heart, thus constricted,
sehr schmerzhaft an mein Keimen schlug.   throbbed achingly about my sprouting self.

Jetzt bin ich wieder aufgebaut                      Now I am rebuilt
aus allen Stücken meiner Schande                from all the pieces of my shame
und sehne mich nach einem Bande,            and yearn for a bond,
nach einem einigen Verstande,                     for a unified understanding,
der mich wie ein Ding überschaut,              which regards me as one thing
nach deines Herzens großen Händen           – as I yearn for the big hands of your Heart [to hold me]
(o kämen sie doch auf mich zu)                    (oh, let them draw near me)
ich zähle mich, mein Gott, und du,                I count myself, my God, and you,
du hast das Recht, mich zu verschwenden.     You have the right, to waste me.

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Und Gott Befiehit mir, daß ich schriebe

I keep reading Rilke of late.  There will be more thoughts of mine and poems of his to share later, but in the meantime, here’s one that seemed apt enough for Ash Wednesday.  Have a blessed Lenten season, my dears.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich schriebe:
And God commanded me, that I write:

Den Königen sei Grausamkeit.   Leave the cruelty to kings.
Sie ist der Engel vor der Liebe,  Without that angel barring
und ohne diesen Bogen bliebe   the way to love, there would be no arc
mir keine Brücke in die Zeit.     to be my bridge into time.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich male:
And God commanded me, that I paint:

Die Zeit ist mir mein tiefstes Weh,    Time is my deepest woe,
so legte ich in ihre Schale:                so I laid in Her bowl
das wache Weib, die Wundenmale,   the waking wife, the painted-wounds*,
den reichen Tod (daß er sie zahle),   the rich death (which he pays for)
der Städte bange Bacchanale,          the cities’ fearful bacchanalia,
den Wahnsinn und die Könige.        the madness and the kings.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich baue:
And God commanded me, that I build:

Den König bin ich von der Zeit.       I am the king of then and now,
Dir aber bin ich nur der graue          but to you I am just the gray
Mitwisser deiner Einsamkeit.           confidant of your loneliness.
Und bin das Auge mit der Braue  And I am the eye under the brow

 Das über meine Schulter schaue          …which looks over my shoulder
von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.                     from eternity to eternity.

 

I confess my understanding of this poem to be limited, given that I’m working in translation and am by no means fluent in German. Any criticism or correction would be welcome.

God’s being was narrowed, in Christ, to a finite span of time; it seems to me that “time” thus becomes shorthand for saying “a human being with a mortal lifespan.”

Since God commanded me that I paint is followed by a description of woeful things laid in a bowl, I imagine the paint to be blood, dripping into a bowl from Christ’s side. His suffering the weight of the world’s sorrow allows such grievous things to be transformed into stories, song, and beauty.

*Kenning for stigmata

Lent-Safe Songs

It is customary for some of us to put songs of praise on hold during the Lenten season, particularly songs of praise containing that particular Hebrew word proclaiming the praise of Yahweh.  We get serious about avoiding it.  We bury it.  We listen to Handel’s Messiah with great care, lest the nine or ten movements appropriate to Lent lead us to hear that famous chorus before its time.  I’ve even heard performers apologize for their potential offense of those with liturgical sensibilities (or, as Thalia and I would say, liturges) by including The A Word (not that one, the other one) in their program, which was performed during Lent because there are only so many openings in the performance hall schedule.

Normally it’s easy enough to avoid, because you know what you’re avoiding.  But there are occasional false positives.  Here’s the scene: Peachy sits, as before, listening to Celtic music on Pandora.  Gaelic Storm’s rendition of “An Poc Ar Buile” has just begun.  “Can I listen to this?” he asks me.

Preposterous, right?  Surely he can listen to whatever he wants.  But An Poc Ar Buile has made me wonder too.  The chorus goes “Ailliliú, puilliliú, ailliliú tá an puc ar buile” and it does sound a bit jubilant.

But Gaelic’s not the same thing as Hebrew by any means.  It turns out they’re singing about a fellow in Dromore, up in the County Down, who meets a mad goat.  When it catches its horns in some gorse, he jumps on its back, and rides it some 230 or 240 miles to County Cork.

You will probably hear more from me about goat-songs before long.  For now, know that ailliliú is like an extremely literal hosanna: anyone caught on a mad puck goat could well sing “Save me now!”

Throw the Lumber Over, Man!

Yesterday was the day of ashes, the reminder that we are all of dust and one day shall return to it.  So begins the penitential season of Lent, a time for reflection, repentance, and sacrifice.

Today a plethora of people are setting out into a variety of wilderness, a time of self-abnegation.  Some give up foods, be they meat, sweets, other snacks, or alcohol; some avoid the use of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, or various other sorts of social media; others set out to devote more time in prayer and pondering.

This time of sacrifice underscores the truth that man does not live by bread [or meat, or Internet, or sleep, or work, or play] alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  So many of the objects or activities surrounding us, demanding us, consuming us could [should] be set down.

On that note, here is a longish excerpt from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), wherein the three men are planning what to take on a river-boating trip.  It expresses some of my dad’s maxims, but with more vigour:

The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable; so we tore the list up, and looked at one another!

George said:

“You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”

George comes out really quite sensible at times. You’d be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work. Time to drink in life’s sunshine – time to listen to the Æolian music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us – time to –

I beg your pardon, really. I quite forgot.

A Foretaste of the Feast to Come

So I’m part of this choir that sings Handel’s Messiah in Hill Auditorium every year.  Sometimes that means we sigh at the fact that it’s December again and we’re singing Messiah for the 4th or 10th or 37th time.  Sometimes that means we pass over rehearsing Handel in favor of rehearsing more unfamiliar repertoire; this season, it’s MacMillan’s Tu Es Petrusthe finale of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and Milhaud’s Oresteia.  Sometimes we hold our scores but never look at them, which can backfire on the odd occasion our conductor makes changes to the dynamics or duration of the notes.

It can get a bit wearing, is what I’m saying.  Singing a piece year after year ought to make it more polished, but I’m convinced I get worse at the melismas every time.  Squishing onto the risers never really gets better.  I typically end up counting how many movements are left.  December doesn’t really get any warmer (well, okay, it did this year.  One-off).  I never get any less liturgically confused.   The Hallelujah Chorus always feels so relaxed and somehow that doesn’t seem right.

And yet, no matter how wearing it gets, the moments remain which remind me why I do this – why I’m part of a choir, why I sing, why music is:  The end and final aim of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.  In high school, we had choir tour shirts with this line from Bach on the back, but it hardly seemed so true then as it does now.

During performances this weekend, that nigh-wearisome familiarity with the score allowed for the music to glorify God and refresh the soul as I’d never before experienced it.  The notes, the rhythms, the dynamics, the diction: they were not abandoned, but observing them was drawn up into conveying the meaning, the truth of words heard so often over the years that we sometimes cease to attend them.  To paraphrase our conductor, each chorus must be sung as though for the first time these words have ever been heard:

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders

Glory to God!  Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.

Surely, surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruiséd for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healéd. 

Let all the angels of God worship Him!

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!  Blessing and honor, glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb.  Amen!

When the final cutoff arrived, it seemed to me that we hadn’t yet sung enough…in fact, it seemed we never could.  The power and verity of those words provided a glimpse of what praising God in perfect heavenly harmony might be like.  To focus one’s energy on the One who is worthy of all praise: this is delight.  This is what we were made for.  This is a foretaste of the feast of thanksgiving to come.

Me and Myself

In undergrad, one of my friends once tried to explain to his mother that he was too busy to come home very often.

His mother, being a wise woman, raised a wry eyebrow and retorted, “Well then, you had better get holy quickly, and bilocate!”

Bilocation is one of those spiritual gifts that everyone should receive. To be fully present, physically, mentally, and spiritually, in two places at once . . . . isn’t that the dream of every child? (On a whim, I googled images of “bilocation” and got only creepy drawings of “astral projection”. These two should not be confused.)

Bilocations would make school infinitely easier.

We could get homework done while sleeping! We could have social life and an academic life! While sleeping! (Are you catching on to theme here?)

Not to mention, being in two places at once would just be pure awesome.

This time of life – young and trying to make our own home – is a very fun and freeing period. We can do what we want, hang out when and where we want, go to bed when we want, stay in beds as we want, clean the bathroom when we want . . . .

And therein lies the rub. Why must I spend all my time taking care of myself?

It takes so much energy to cook a meal for just one person. Not to mention doing the dishes.

Laundry? Ha! I laugh in the face of your folding procedures!

This is when I miss being with a family the most. I had to think of – and take care of – everyone else. But they took care of me, so I didn’t have to worry over myself very much.

Being in two places would probably be put to use first in catching up on sleep. But second, it would be used to take care of all those little details of taking care of oneself.

The problem is, how?

Saints bilocated to do the will of God. Many were seen both at prayer and doing good works around the villages at the same time.

Most famous of the Bilocaters is Sister Maria de Agreda, who never left her convent in Spain yet visited and evangelized to what is now Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. When missionaries arrived in those areas, they were shocked when the Indians calmly recited the Catechism, and told tales of a blue nun who had taught them.

She is honored in society by having a wine named after her.

But all these gifted, Holy Ones seem to have one trait in common: they did not need extra time to do their dishes. Or sleep. In fact, they did not seem to need sleep!

They were all too busy talking to God and prancing about doing cool things. They barely seem to think of themselves at all!

Ahh . . . . that is it.

As an egotist, I am not sure I can imitate them very well. But at least now I have a specific method to work on.

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

And people can defy mortal physics because they forget their mortal coils!

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

By T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III 

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

               but speak the word only. 

IV
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.