Alphabooks: X

X: X Marks the Spot

X marks the spot, though the spot is arbitrary: the prompt called for looking at one’s bookshelf and, starting at the upper left, counting to the 27th book. I’m pretty sure this is because Jamie was 27 when she wrote her original post and not for any other arcane numerological reasons. Being 27 myself, I followed suit on each of my bookcases.

27th on the small shelf27th in the cabinet, depending how you count27th on the "borrowed" shelf27th among the sci-fi/fantasy/teen books

This seems especially arbitrary because I need to reorganize my shelves.

If only the 27th book on at least one of my shelves were Munster’s Cosmographia Universalis, or something along the lines of the Musgrave Ritual!  Then there would be some point to marking the spot.

27th among Erstwhile School Books

Pearl Buck is all “do not hunt for the X to see what treasure is buried in the earth; the treasure IS the earth”

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Random Research: Raphael and Rilke

Every once in a while, I stop and consider how utterly reliant I am on the internet in general, and Google in particular.  O, benevolent online overlords!  Thou art the repository of so much of human thought, the cache of my own ideas, and my lady Mnemosyne.  Nor dost thou scorn to stoop and serve me, so long as my ISP does not fail me and I can limit my query to 128 characters.

But sometimes even Google, mighty Google, cannot come to my aid.

Two instances of late come to mind.

Back in April, I went to Rome with a friend.  Among the sights I appreciated most was the library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura, which Raphael decorated on all sides with frescoes.  The School of Athens is there (cue flashbacks to college days), as well as La Disputa del Sacramento – The Disputation of the Sacrament.

Disputa_del_Sacramento_(Rafael)

I was struck with curiosity over the scribe girl sitting next to St. Augustine (the fellow with a miter to the right of the altar, who is gesturing toward her).  Presumably she’s taking notes on the discussion of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
La Disputa scribe

I love her.  My practice is the same: to write down what people are saying in conversation, whether it’s in a booklet or whatever scraps of paper I have to hand, whether it’s clever or funny or erudite or just plain ridiculous.  Whoever she is, she is my representative where this picture is concerned.

Sadly, I have no idea who she is.  She might not be anyone at all; she might be a figure representing all scribes in all times and in all places, or the preservation of the doctrine of the church throughout history.  She might be the anthropomorphization of some concept: purity, truth, reason.

After scrolling through site after site in vain, I became convinced that all the Googling in the world could not illuminate this figure for me.  I headed to the library and got out every book on Raphael they’ve got, which gave me background on the putative chronology of the frescoes, and the background for how Raphael was chosen to paint them, but not much insight on the iconography he used, beyond the fact that it was ground-breaking in its animation. Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, bless them, shared an endnote in their 1983 Raphael that Heinrich Pfeiffer explored the question in his dissertation, Zur Ikonographie von Raffaels Disputa.

It is a testament to my curiosity that I submitted a WorldCat request to get it from Montreal, despite the fact that I will need to translate the lot to get any answers from it.  Provoking!

But not, perhaps, as provoking as that other problem that plagues the internet, namely: people crediting an individual as the author of a quotation or idea or aphorism, without citing where they found it.  Then other people share it, be it truth or falsehood.  The thing becomes ubiquitous, a weed with no way to trace its forebears.

In this case, I found a poem credited to Rilke called “Blank Joy,” which of course appealed to me very greatly.  Given that he composed in German and French but not, to my knowledge, in English, I was interested in finding and translating the original.  So I checked Amazon for his titles, and took a look at their respective tables of contents.  I consulted my library’s catalog, and Wikipedia, and poetic fan sites: all the usual places.

The original German…does not appear to exist.  Or, rather, I’ve found it on three sites, but no one indicates what volume of his it was published in (was it published?  Did someone share a poem once written in a letter?).  Is it actually his?  How can we know?

So far the only solution I’ve come up with…is to request Sämtliche Werke in 12 Bänden – his complete works in twelve volumes – from the library.

I’m not sure what to take from this.  Maybe I should rely on Google less; perhaps I should consult the library and librarians therein first; possibly (probably) I should develop more vigorous and enterprising methods of research.

Or perhaps the real lesson is that I should learn German.

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.

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