Last time Mary Oliver's "Blue Pastures" offered the tid-bits I needed. Yesterday Edward Hirsch's "The Demon and the Angel, Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration," provided the touch.
I opened the book yesterday to this poem. There is a lovely explanation of the poem in the book, but I present just the poem here, on which for you to reflect.
"Death" ("Der Tod") by Rilke (written November 1915, in the midst of World War I.)
There stands death a bluish distillate
in a cup without a saucer. Such a strange
place to find a cup: standing on
the back of a hand. One recognizes clearly
the line along the glazed curve, where the handle
snapped. Covered with dust. And HOPE is written
across the side, in faded Gothic letters.
The man who was to drink out of that cup
read it aloud at breakfast, long ago.
What kind of beings are they then,
who finally must be scared away by poison?
Otherwise would they stay here? Would they keep
chewing so foolishly on their own frustration?
The hard present moment must be pulled
out of them, like a set of false teeth. Then
they mumble. They go on mumbling, mumbling ....
O shooting star
that fell into my eyes and through my body - :
not to forget you. To endure.
Ah, maybe a smattering of explanation. I pick and choose.
"Rilke said that the writing of this poem unfolded for him like a dream. It was a reverie on the inexplicable image of a cup balancing on the level back of a hand. He saw that cup filled with a pure liquid, a blue distillation, which he understood to be an extract of death itself."
He then speaks of living corpses, "haunting a table where they can no longer eat or drink. It is as if the soul, the living moment, bodily existence itself, must be surgically pulled out of their mouths. And so their voices - and the poem itself - sputter down into incomprehensible mumbling." "Thus the poem goes underneath speech and trails off into the silence of an incredibly extended ellipsis."
"And then suddenly, Rilke said, the last three lines burst out of him. They came to him unbidden, and in the strongest possible contrast to the preceding ones. They have terrific liftoff. He later explained the final image:
At the end of the poem "Death" the moment is evoked (I was standing on the wonderful bridge of Toledo) when a star, falling through cosmic space in a tensed slow arc, simultaneously ( how should I say this?) fell through my inner space: the body's dividing outline was no longer there. And whereas this happened then through my eyes, once at an earlier time (in Capri) the same unity had been granted me through hearing."
"Rilke immediately understood the spectacular meteor - a comet arcing across the sky and crashing into the water - as a figure for death itself, as something simultaneously lighting up that heavens and tumbling through himself. It's as if he had transposed the arc of a flaming shell into a cosmic image, a cosmic episode. He felt he had taken in the star through his eyes, permeated the membrane between the inner and outer worlds, mystically touched a greater unity. The speed with which the irrational splendor of death blazes across the sky of Rilke's memory, enters his body, and suffused the end of his poem is inself an instance of duende."
I think reading this opened me up to Rilke's angels as I sat there. He knew the angels, and reading his words allowed me to feel mine, and to see how hard they work for me. I am aware of that aspect of myself now, all of this, the angels in Cirque du Soleil, Rilke, and this balancing between earth and heaven, the floating in and out, and the integration of body, soul, spirit, to unbind the soul clasp of the human and the divine. May your angels lighten and brighten, heighten and tighten, and glide your day today!