Category Archives: Literature

We are bees of the invisible… Rilke from a letter to Halewicz

geheimnisse-einiger-philosophen-und-adepten

“We are bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the invisible, to store it in the great golden hives of the invisible.”

Rilke often refers to the invisible, especially in his Duino Elegies, which he wrote during a particularly mystical period of his life. In a letter to his Polish translator Witold Hulewicz in November 1925, he wrote: ‘We of the present are never satisfied by the world of time…transience everywhere plunges into the depths of being…it is our task to print this temporal, perishable earth so painfully, passionately and deeply into ourselves, that its essence is resurrected again, invisibly, within us…the Elegies show this, the work of endlessly converting the visible, tangible world we love into the invisible vibrations and tremors of our own nature…’

He was quite passionate about the “Temple within” and the interior life, whereas he saw the outside world as transitory and fragile.

In another letter, written in 1925, commenting on his Elegies, he wrote: “‘…the Angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we perform, appears already complete.’ [..] ‘that being who attests to the recognition of a higher level of reality in the invisible – Terrifying, therefore, to us because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible’.

Here are some good links on Rilke’s work and his letters

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/TheFountainOfJoy.htm

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8779p1x3&chunk.id=d0e1921&toc.id=d0e1494&brand=ucpress

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/rainer-maria-rilke

I became a little (more) obsessed with Rilke after reading a chapter focusing on his work in this book:
http://www.jameshollis.net/books/archetypal.htm

(edited to include more details from comments)

originally posted 2012

Jaq

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

The Redemption of Saint Anthony | The Public Domain Review

Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely ‘unreadable’ retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. Colin Dickey explores how it was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert’s strangest work finally came to life.

via The Redemption of Saint Anthony | The Public Domain Review.

The Gold Tree, with initials designed by Austin O Spare

The gold tree.
With initials designed by Austin O. Spare and cut in wood by W. Quick. Published 1917

goldtreewithinit00squiuoft_0007

The Gold Tree is a short story written by Sir John Collings Squire, in which he describes in detail an imagined bookshop that appears frequently in his dreams.  It can be viewed and read here: https://archive.org/stream/goldtreewithinit00squiuoft#page/n5/mode/2up

From 1919 to 1934, Squire was the editor of the monthly periodical, the London Mercury. It showcased the work of the Georgian poets and was an important outlet for new writers.

Squire was not exactly a popular character..

Virginia Woolf wrote that Squire was “more repulsive than words can express, and malignant into the bargain”. […] Eliot attacked Squire repeatedly, at one point describing him as a critic “whose solemn trifling fascinates multitudes”. […] Eliot also acknowledged that Squire wielded a lot of power; because of Squire’s skill as a journalist, his success would be modernism’s disaster. Eliot wrote: “If he succeeds, it will be impossible to get anything good published”.

Squire is in any case generally credited with the one-liner “I am not so think as you drunk I am”.

Austin O Spare provided the design for the Illustrations, which were then cut by W. Quick.

goldtreewithinit00squiuoft_0065

The pair also worked on Twelve Poems by J.C. Squire. Published in 1916 which can be viewed and read online here: https://archive.org/details/twelvepoems00squiiala

 

 

 

Mark Twain Writes a Rapturous Letter to Walt Whitman on the Poet’s 70th Birthday 1889 – Open Culture | Open Culture

Hartford, May 24/89

To Walt Whitman:You have lived just the seventy years which are greatest in the world’s history & richest in benefit & advancement to its peoples. These seventy years have done much more to widen the interval between man & the other animals than was accomplished by any five centuries which preceded them.What great births you have witnessed! The steam press, the steamship, the steel ship, the railroad, the perfected cotton-gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the photograph, photo-gravure, the electrotype, the gaslight, the electric light, the sewing machine, & the amazing, infinitely varied & innumerable products of coal tar, those latest & strangest marvels of a marvelous age.

And you have seen even greater births than these; for you have seen the application of anesthesia to surgery-practice, whereby the ancient dominion of pain, which began with the first created life, came to an end in this earth forever; you have seen the slave set free, you have seen the monarchy banished from France, & reduced in England to a machine which makes an imposing show of diligence & attention to business, but isn’t connected with the works. Yes, you have indeed seen much — but tarry yet a while, for the greatest is yet to come. Wait thirty years, & then look out over the earth! You shall see marvels upon marvels added to these whose nativity you have witnessed; & conspicuous above them you shall see their formidable Result — Man at almost his full stature at last! — & still growing, visibly growing while you look. In that day, who that hath a throne, or a gilded privilege not attainable by his neighbor, let him procure his slippers & get ready to dance, for there is going to be music. Abide, & see these things!

Thirty of us who honor & love you, offer the opportunity. We have among us 600 years, good & sound, left in the bank of life. Take 30 of them — the richest birth-day gift ever offered to poet in this world — & sit down & wait. Wait till you see that great figure appear, & catch the far glint of the sun upon his banner; then you may depart satisfied, as knowing you have seen him for whom the earth was made, & that he will proclaim that human wheat is worth more than human tares, & proceed to organize human values on that basis.

Mark Twain

via Mark Twain Writes a Rapturous Letter to Walt Whitman on the Poet’s 70th Birthday 1889 – Open Culture | Open Culture.

“He was an illumination thrown upon life.”

balzac

” Specialism consists in seeing the things of the material world as well as those of the spiritual world in their original and consequential ramifications. The highest human genius is that which starts from the shadows of abstraction to advance into the light of specialism. (Specialism, species, sight, speculation, seeing all, and that at one glance; speculum, the mirror or means of estimating a thing by seeing it in its entirety)” ~ Honore de Balzac

 

Balzac was standing before the fireplace of that dear room where I have seen so many remarkable men and women come and go. He was not tall, though the light on his face and the mobility of his figure prevented me from noticing his stature. His body swayed with his thought; there seemed at times to be a space between him and the floor; occasionally he stooped as though to gather an idea at his feet, and then he rose on them to follow the flight of his thought above him. At the moment of my entrance he was carried away by the subject of a conversation then going on with Monsieur and Madame de Girardin, and only interrupted himself for a moment to give me a keen, rapid, gracious look of extreme kindness.

He was stout, solid, square at the base and across the shoulders. The neck, chest, body and thighs were powerful, with something of Mirabeau’s amplitude, but without heaviness. His soul was apparent, and seemed to carry everything lightly, gaily, like a supple covering, not in the least like a burden. His size seemed to give him power, not to deprive him of it. His short arms gesticulated easily; he talked as an orator speaks. His voice resounded with the somewhat vehement energy of his lungs, but it had neither roughness nor sarcasm nor anger in it; his legs, on which he rather swayed himself, bore the torso easily; his hands, which were large and plump, expressed his thought as he waved them. Such was the outward man in that robust frame. But in presence of the face it was difficult to think of the structure. That speaking face, from which it was not easy to remove one’s eye, charmed and fascinated you; his hair was worn in thick masses; his black eyes pierced you like darts dipped in kindliness; they entered confidingly into yours like friends. His cheeks were full and ruddy; the nose well modeled, though rather long; the lips finely outlined, but full and raised at the corners; the teeth irregular and notched. His head was apt to lean to one side, and then, when the talk excited him, it was lifted quickly with an heroic sort of pride.

But the dominant expression of his face, greater than even that of intellect, was the manifestation of goodness and kindheartedness. He won your mind when he spoke, but he won your heart when he was silent. No feeling of envy or hatred could have been expressed by that face; it was impossible that it should seem otherwise than kind. But the kindness was not that of indifference; it was loving kindness, conscious of its meaning and conscious of others; it inspired gratitude and frankness, and defied all those who knew him not to love him. A childlike merriment was in his aspect; here was a soul at play; he had dropped his pen to be happy among friends, and it was impossible not to be joyous where he was . ~ Alphonse de Lamartine

From Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, [1901], at sacred-texts.com Chapter 12 Honoré de Balzac.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/cc/cc21.htm

 

For those who read French, you can read Lamartine’s work “Balzac et ses ouevres online at https://archive.org/details/balzacetsesoeuvr00lama

 

and Honore de Balzac, by Albert Keim and Louis Lumet at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3625/3625-h/3625-h.htm


 

P.D. Ouspensky: Strange Life of Ivan Osokin – Ivan-Osokin.pdf

“At six years of age Ouspensky was reading on an adult level. Two books made a strong impression on him—Lermontov’s A Hero for Our Time and Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Notebook. Lermontov’s book is noteworthy since the ideas it expresses—the plasticity of time and questions of predestination, fate and recurrence—are those that would occupy Ouspensky throughout his life. As a young boy Ouspensky disliked school, finding the work dull. At sixteen he discovered Nietzsche, whose idea of eternal recurrence would remain a lifelong interest. He left school the same year. In 1905, at the age of seventeen, his mother died. That year he wrote his only novel (not published until 1915), The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.”

3366_P_D_OUSPENSKY_Strange_Life_of_Ivan_Osokin_1972

http://www.gurdjiefflegacy.org/archives/pdouspensky.htm

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin – Ivan-Osokin.pdf. old link didn’t work – updated to add working link

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin is a novel by P. D. Ouspensky. It follows the unsuccessful struggle of Ivan Osokin to correct his mistakes when given a chance to relive his past. The novel serves as a narrative platform for Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. The conclusion fully anticipates the Fourth Way Philosophy which typified Ouspensky’s later works. In particular the final chapter’s description of the shocking realization of the mechanical nature of existence, its consequences, and the possibility/responsibility of working in an esoteric school.” – wiki

The use of Nature imagery in the works of Federico Garcia Lorca

lorcaFederico Garcia Lorca

In his Ode to Walt Whitman, Lorca asks “Whose perfect voice will sing the truths of wheat?”

Throughout the poem, he is lamenting the absence of men of the calibre of the “lovely Walt Whitman”. The truths of wheat…  Federico Garcia Lorca uses symbolic, nature imagery throughout his work.

Whilst addressing sexuality in his Ode to Walt Whitman – he and Whitman were both homosexual – Lorca is here also addressing the hypocrisy of what is considered natural and unnatural.

He writes of the world of industry:

“Ninety thousand miners taking silver from the rocks
and children drawing stairs and perspectives.
But none of them could sleep,
none of them wanted to be the river,
none of them loved the huge leaves
or the shoreline’s blue tongue”

It is a theme he explored often; human sexuality, morality, and how people either deny themselves, or indulge themselves – those whom he refers to as “Sleepless enemies of the love that bestows crowns of joy.”

I recently came across a wonderful article written by Robert Lima, entitled “Toward the Dionysiac: Pagan Elements and Rites in Yerma“. Lorca wrote Yerma (barren in Spanish) about a childless woman living in rural Spain. As Lima puts it, Lorca introduces “natural factors that are in obvious opposition to the unnatural state of affairs in Yerma’s relationship with each of the three men in her life”.

It has been suggested that Yerma is the work of Lorca’s most directly associated with his assassination in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. It most openly challenges the institution of Catholicism and the strict sexual morality of Spanish society.

 “The four elements begin to appear in the very first scene of Yerma, either singly or in combinations, and continue to be a major frame of reference in the rest of the play. Through the elements, Lorca is able to create a symbolic pattern that is both ironic (in that it is Yerma who most frequently and intuitively refers to the pagan elements yet cannot assimilate them, and portentuous (in that they build towards the full manifestation of the Dionysiac in the final scene of the play)” – Robert Lima from Toward the Dionysiac: Pagan Elements and Rites in Yerma

(Link to full text below)

https://journals.ku.edu/index.php/jdtc/article/viewFile/1742/1706..

“Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man,
have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies,
nor your corduroy shoulders frayed by the moon,
nor your thighs pure as Apollo’s,
nor your voice like a column of ash,
old man, beautiful as the mist”

from Ode to Walt Whitman, F.G. Lorca

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/ode-to-walt-whitman/

WWWalt Whitman

Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Solome

Rainer Maria Rilke

To Lou Andreas-Salome

I held myself too open, I forgot
that outside not just things exist and animals
fully at ease in themselves, whose eyes
reach from their lives’ roundedness no differently
than portraits do from frames; forgot that I
with all I did incessantly crammed
looks into myself; looks, opinion, curiosity.
Who knows: perhaps eyes form in space
and look on everywhere. Ah, only plunged toward you
does my face cease being on display, grows
into you and twines on darkly, endlessly,
into your sheltered heart.

As one puts a handkerchief before pent-in-breath-
no: as one presses it against a wound
out of which the whole of life, in a single gush,
wants to stream, I held you to me: I saw you
turn red from me. How could anyone express
what took place between us? We made up for everything
there was never time for. I matured strangely
in every impulse of unperformed youth,
and you, love, had wildest childhood over my heart.

Memory won’t suffice here: from those moments
there must be layers of pure existence
on my being’s floor, a precipitate
from that immensely overfilled solution.

For I don’t think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don’t invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you’ve gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.

rilkesalome

Rilke with Lou Andreas-Salomé (1897) On the balcony of the summer house of the family Andreas near Munich. Left to right: Professor Andreas, August Endell, Rilke, and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

The relationship, which began when 21-year-old Rilke met the 36-year-old and married Salomé, commenced with the all-too-familiar pattern of one besotted lover, Rilke, flooding the resistant object of his desire with romantic revelations, only to be faced with repeated, composed rejection as Salomé claimed to wish she could make him “go completely away.” But Rilke’s love didn’t flinch and the two eventually developed a passionate bond which, over the thirty-five-year course of their correspondence that followed, we see change shape and morph from friends to mentor and protégé to lovers to literary allies — a kaleidoscope of love that irradiates across the romantic, the platonic, the creative, the spiritual, the intellectual, and just about everything in between.”

rilke-in-russiaRilke with Lou Andreas-Salomé in Russia
with the poet Spiridon Drozin
(1900)

rainer-maria-rilke_lou-andreas-salomc3a9

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rainer-Maria-Rilke-Andreas-Salome-Correspondence/dp/0393049760

Writing Against Captivity: Phillis Wheatley’s Illimitable Imagination

“One of her most interesting poems, ‘On Imagination’, employs art as a means of freeing the mind and the muse, conceptualized as a figure she calls Fancy. Her poem proposes an alternative hierarchy where Fancy acts a deity that enjoys unfettered freedom, despite the tight poetical structure of the heroic couplet form, likely read in the works of the near-contemporary and widely read British poet, Alexander Pope. In ‘On Imagination’, Wheatley constructs a liberated world outside of slavery, flying on the wings of Fancy, another word for the imagination, to free herself from the bonds imposed by Winter, an allegorical figure representing slavery.”
Follow the link for full article – Jaq

Interesting Literature

By Laura Linker

Phillis Wheatley (1753-84), an eighteenth-century black slave taught to read by her owners, composed over 100 poems in her lifetime, many of them drawing on the Bible as a source of infallible authority. The first slave to publish a book, Wheatley often urges America to repent of its participation in the slave trade. (She was also the originator of ‘Columbia’ as a term for America, which she invented in her 1776 poem ‘To His Excellency George Washington’.) Steeped in western canonical authors, including Ovid, Virgil, Shakespeare, and Milton, she draws on classical and religious allusions to challenge legal and social limitations that denigrate slaves, adopting established poetical forms only to use them as sites of resistance. Her poetry demonstrates remarkable technique and learning.

Wheatley

One of her most interesting poems, ‘On Imagination’, employs art as a means of freeing the mind and the muse, conceptualized as a figure…

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