Splitting the Difference

Castle Duino, Italy. Photo by Johann Jaritz


Elegy For a Lesser God


There is a faint noise
In the middle of a field
Beyond the sea line
Above the clashing rocks

No Scylla or Charybdis
Just nature clapping hard

For another beautiful wave

A faint noise in the castle
And a flickering of candle’s light
Draws doves from their resting place

Near the world’s sphere
The world’s globe

The navel of the universe
As seen by the writer
Before he moves away
From the candle and the sea

What is in the mind
What brings the doves circling
Overhead for a taste
Of bread and dreams?…

Rilke’s Revolutionary Notebooks

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke. 1910

Rilke’s one and only novel is a mysterious, beautifully written, baffling modernist stew. Reading it for the third time, I was struck again by its yearning and incompleteness, its meditative and incantatory qualities, and the sense it gives us of loneliness and despair, without removing hope and the potential for redemption.

The protagonist is a struggling young poet, living in Paris, poverty stricken, seemingly quite alone. He is neither successful at his craft, nor completely defeated. Rilke presents Malte in the present, lets him take us back in time into his childhood, and also much further back, into the Middle Ages.…

Dimensions: More Than Spatiality

Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. 1912

Below, we have a new essay by Robert Mueller. He deals with two fine poets, Barbara Guest and Jill Magi, with imagination and verve.

Jill Magi’s author’s page over at Shearsman Books can be found here. Jill’s homepage can be found here.


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The topic of poetic space on the page is an interesting one. How it looks alters our reception and perception. We read it differently to ourselves depending upon topography.

Poetry is both spatial and aural. Traditionally, poetry was heard, not seen, passed down to us from bard to bard, from shaman to shaman, registering across the centuries in the ear, as we imagined the words and their referents with our inner eye.…

A Fool on the Hill

 I didn’t make it to all the way to the Falls. Was within half a mile or so before time ran out. Someone turned out the lights on the great painting in the sky.

I still found some green and blue peace and more. I found a vision and learned how certain cameras can not handle what comes out of that great painting in the sky. One has to prepare for such things and I didn’t. Next time.

How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude! — Emily Dickinson, letter to Mrs. J.S. Cooper, 1880

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

Doctor Zhivago

Boris Pasternak

Rereading Paternak’s epic at the moment. Makes me think about the movie, of course. David Lean’s film shares its epic sweep and grandeur, along with the emotional weight of actual tragedy. But, this reread (so far) brings surprises. I had forgotten how much of the story had been left out of the movie, how many characters never appear, how most of the back-story is missing in the film.

It would, of course, have been impossible to include much more. Pasternak fills the book to the brim with hundreds of characters, events, philosophical asides, and the national tragedy of millions.…

Still another writing table: Hemingway and Big Game

Papa Hemingway at his desk. 1939.

 It’s quite possible I couldn’t pick two writers further apart from one another to deal with back to back.

Temperamentally, artistically, biographically. Rilke and Hemingway. Yet both men were profoundly influenced by their days in Paris, and both men learned much about their art at the knee of an older woman. Perhaps it’s less than dime-store psychology to also suggest that both men had “issues” with their relationship to female sexuality. Issues that led to very different attempts to resolve that conflict — internally and externally. But, issues nonetheless. People really are complex.

Finished Humphrey Carpenter’s book about Americans in Paris, and was reminded that the core material for The Sun Also Rises was a rather banal little trip taken by Hemingway and a few friends to see the bulls in Pamplona.…

The Absence of a Writing Table and Other Bogus Complaints

Vsevolod Garshin, by Ilya Repin. 1884.

 No, this post won’t be about old Vsevolod. He’s already had more than enough great press lately, I imagine. Just thought his visage captured a certain weariness, bafflement and astonishment at the task of reading and writing, and that this was apropos of other things. The artist Repin was apparently good at that, too–good at painting moments like this, having tackled Tolstoy as well as the composer Rimsky-Korsakov in other portraits. And, of course, old Vsevolod looks like a 19th century Spiderman, lost in a Bohemian funk. But that’s another story altogether.

Wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post about Rilke, and elaborate a bit on my translation of The Panther, on what went into it, and how it came to be.…

Rilke: The Panther and the Writing Table

Castle Duino, Italy. Photo by Johann Jaritz

Rainer Maria Rilke was a sublime poet, one of the greatest lyric poets of the 20th century, and quite possibly a lousy human being. His Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus rank among the finest works of art in any language, taking us softly, profoundly to the nexus between life and death, pain and redemption, mourning and new hope. Through his poetry and other writings, he conveyed a level of empathy and understanding toward women that may surpass any poet in the last 100 years. Though it seemed he rarely showed that insight and understanding in real life, at least if we are to believe several recent accounts about Rilke’s life and loves.…

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