Friday, April 27, 2007

Rilke on contemplating Rome

I don't know how much I'll be able to blog whilst in Italy. I hope to at least post a picture or two every other day. Somehow, spending time on a computer (that prosaic daily activity to which we're tied) while in the midst of much to do and see seems like a waste of precious time. But, there's also the idea of joy extended when others who can't be at the glorious sites can share the experience through the extended lens of the internet. So, I'll have to find a way to balance it all.

My parents are perturbed that we're returning after a year-and-a-half since our last trip. I find it amusing since they lived in Rome in their salad days, and would have reunions with university friends in Rome every so often. But I think since we're bringing all of the children, there's an element of danger that unsettles them.

Embedded in all this is that age-old struggle that parents have of how to view their adult children. There's still the memory of the irresponsible youth that has to be melded into the present reality. I should bristle, but it's all endearing to me. I try to reassure them and tell them what a great opportunity it is for the children and to remember when once they saw with wonder the Baths of Caracalla, or the Catacombs of San Callisto, or St. Peter's Dome.

Anyway, if you were to ask me who the influences were in my writing, one would have to be Rainier Maria Rilke. His ability to capture living breathing moments with words that shimmer and sing with the beauty of internal cadences...well, I'll just stop here and let you read.
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~from a Letter to a Young Poet, October 29, 1903 [paragraph breaks added for readability]

We arrived in Rome about six weeks ago, at a time when it was still empty, the hot, the notoriously feverish Rome, and this circumstance, along with other practical difficulties in finding a place to live, helped make the restlessness around us seem as if it would never end, and the unfamiliarity lay upon us with the weight of homelessness.

In addition, Rome (if one has not yet become acquainted with it) makes one feel stifled with sadness for the first few days: through the gloomy and lifeless museum-atmosphere that it exhales, through the abundance of its pasts, which are brought forth and laboriously held up (pasts on which a tiny present subsists), through the terrible overvaluing, sustained by scholars and philologists and imitated by the ordinary tourist in Italy, of all the disfigured and decaying Things, which, after all, are essentially nothing more than accidental remains from another time and from a life that is not and should not be ours.

Finally, after weeks of daily resistance, one finds oneself somewhat composed again, even though still a bit confused, and one says to oneself: No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; - but there is much beauty here, because everywhere there is much beauty.

Waters infinitely full of life move along the ancient aqueducts into the great city and dance in the many city squares over white basins of stone and spread out in large, spacious pools and murmur by day and lift up their murmuring to the night, which is vast here and starry and soft with winds. And there are gardens here, unforgettable boulevards, and staircases designed by Michelangelo, staircases constructed on the pattern of downward-gliding waters and, as they descend, widely giving birth to step out of wave. Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in.

I am still living in the city, on the Capitol, not far from the most beautiful equestrian statue that has come down to us from Roman art - the statue of Marcus Aurelius; but in a few weeks I will move into a quiet, simple room, an old summerhouse, which lies lost deep in a large park, hidden from the city, from its noises and incidents. There I will live all winter and enjoy the great silence, from which I expect the gift of happy, work-filled hours. . . .


mcunningham said...

A lovely post, thanks!

You might like to know about a new novel that's just appeared. Entitled LOST SON, the book is based on the life and work of Rilke, and includes his time in Rome in 1904.

Argent said...

Dear M Cunningham,

Thank you for the information. The review speaks highly of the book. I'll check it out.

God bless, Argent