Exercise 2C–A Metaphorical and Visceral Interpretation


Here’s the poem I have chosen – strictly speaking it isn’t a true poem, but as far as I’m concerned Rainer Maria Rilke’s laundry list would be poetic so I think it passes muster:


…Poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines.

For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning.

You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighbourhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else—); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, retrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,—and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that.

You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labour, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises.

And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

This is a theme which I could continue with for much longer because I have a great many recollections which chime with Rilke’s observation that they are “ no longer to be distinguished from our selves”.  I started with some simple personal mementos, meaningful to me of course but possibly with import for the uninitiated viewer as well.  I expect that were I to continue, then the associations would become ever more obscure.  As for whether there are enough or too many images I can’t say.  There are enough for me. Here they are.