Thursday, April 27, 2006

Duino Epigrams

Listening to CocoRosie's "Terrible Angels" tonight, I suddenly remembered where the refrain ("every angel's terrible") comes from: Rilke's first Duino Elegy. is nothing/ but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure/ and we are so awed because it serenely disdains/ to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

Rereading the whole elegy, I was reminded that what I enjoy about it is its arrangement of epigrams. The rest seems like filler: a medium in which to suspend its substance. But part of that impression comes from straightforward misprision, i.e., from plucking groups of words out of their context and distorting their meaning. That is, I like the following phrases much better in isolation than in the role in Rilke's poem.

It serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying. (And CocoRosie's translation is even better.)

Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the[se] huge strange thoughts inside you going and coming an often staying all night?

Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough?

That fierce example of soaring.

What I mean can probably best be illustrated by providing the shared context of the last two epigrams:

Have you imagined/ Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl/ deserted by her beloved might be inspired by that fierce example of soaring, objectless love/ and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her"?

I think my intuitions here follow Pound's imagist programme, i.e., the injunction not to add "of peace" to "the dim lands".

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