Friday, October 23, 2009

Fuck Rilke

When I was last rifling through my storage container, wherein lie all my worldly possessions (aside from the 20 boxes still cluttering my father's basement - much to his chagrin), I ripped open a box labeled "Important Books" and tried to see which set of words might inspire me and spur me to prolificness.

I picked a dozen selections including "Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet", mostly because it was so light it would be good for travel, but also because I haven't read it in a decade. I can't remember if I ever found it inspiring then, but I do recall my friend Renee gave it to me and I was moved that she did so. Mostly because I imagined she thought I must read it out of some belief that I was a promising young artist who needed to be included in the continuum of vital advice to artists from artists over the generations. A sort of arts bible. Or maybe it would just be fatherly advice from a never met artistic father. And as my father's advice mostly consisted of "Why don't you become an investment banker. It's not too late." I thought I could use some words from a more right-brained pater.

I'd only come across Rilke in songs composed by Webern. Prickly things that I can't imagine many people have every truly enjoyed, so I didn't come in with high expectations (aside from the hope of him being a mentor from the dead)

And in fact I mostly found it screamingly objectionable. Rereading it now, I recall thinking Rilke is such a fucking idealist. I need a man of practicality. I didn't want someone who'd tell me to dig deep into my solitude and speak the truth with a heavy seriousness. I wanted to know how to get my work to people while I was still alive and the response I got was "Patience...Be patient without bitterness."

I suppose it's a sign of my continued youthful attitude that the advice of "patience" still to this day is enough to make me throw the book across the room. It's not that I want things instantly, I'm just saying that I'm 39 - an age by which many great artists were long dead - from Mozart to Seurat. So when exactly do I cease being a "Young Poet"?

What amused me the most was seeing what I got pissed off about 10 yeas ago when I first read it. Now, I'm not the kinda guy who takes notes in the margins, but I couldn't stop myself with this following section. (That and this was when I had a really cool architect's steel pen given to me as a birthday present by my brother in which I'd put deep purple ink. (Awesome!) though actually this was a replacement version of that pen which I bought myself because I'd lost the first one. Something which has happened more than once sadly.)

The offending passage reads,"...most everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious," to which I exclaimed in the margins, " No! I want it to be light. New love is light!"

See, I came up with one undeniable counter to his argument in just one sentence.

And I must say anecdotal evidence supports my case. Whenever I spend time with friends newly in love I ride their buoyancy. Often I'm so propelled by their thoughtless brightness, that I don't even resent not having it for myself. There is nothing heavy about new love.

It's awesome. It's light. And it's infectious.

And if something as amazing and vital and awe-inspiring which we all hope to experience like new love is light, what could be good that isn't light and love?

Well, OK, I love me a good sad song, but still, you know what I'm sayin'.

So take that Rilke!

And good night.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    While I totally get what you're saying about the light, infectious, bubbly beauty of new love, I'm going to have to go with Rilke on this one. This excerpt from the poem, Courage is not the Abnormal” by Jack Gilbert, gets at what I (and maybe Rilke) mean:

    But I say courage is not the abnormal.
    Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
    The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment.
    It is too near the whore's heart: the bounty of impulse,
    And the failure to sustain even small kindness.
    Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
    Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
    Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh.
    Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope.
    The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo.
    The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding.
    Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage,
    Not the month's rapture. Not the exception. The beauty
    That is of many days. Steady and clear.
    It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

    "The marriage, not the month's rapture." If new love is not sustained, then is it really love at all? Or merely novelty? True love is shown after the first flush of infatuation is over, and people see one another clearly, and yet still care.