Thursday, May 24, 2007

Discerning Transitions

Lost Son has now appeared in most bookstores.

To mark its arrival, I post this passage from Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Ibsen is the writer being described here, but for me the following prose articulates my own relationship to Rilke himself, to whom I was first introduced 15 years ago, and well describes my enduring bewilderment and wonder through the years-long process of creating Lost Son.

"There I sat before your books, obstinate man, trying to understand them the way those others do who do not leave you intact, but have taken their portion and are satisfied.

For as yet I did not understand fame, that pubic destruction of one in process of becoming, into whose building-ground the mob breaks, displacing his stones...

Most lonely one, holding aloof, how they have caught up with you by reason of your fame.

But lately they were against you from the very root, and now they deal with you as with their equal.

And they carry your words with them in the cages of their presumption and exhibit them in the squares and tease them a little from their own safe distance.

All your terrible wild beasts.

Only then did I read you, when for me they broke out and fell upon me in my wilderness, desperate as they are.

Desperate, as you yourself became in the end, you whose course is wrongly entered on every chart.

Like a fissure it crosses the heavens, this hopeless hyperbola of your path, that only once curves toward us and draws off again in terror.

What did it matter to you whether a woman stays or goes and whether someone is seized with dizziness and someone else with madness and whether the dead live and the living appear to be dead: what did it matter to you?

It was all so natural for you; you passed through it, as one crosses a vestibule, and did not stop.

But yonder you lingered, stooping; where our becoming seethes and precipitates and changes color, inside.

Farther in than anyone has yet been; a door had sprung open before you, and now you were among the alembics in the firelight.

Yonder where, mistrustful, you took no one with you, yonder you sat discerning transitions."

(This comes from M.D. Herter Norton's now classic translation of Malte, first published 1949 by W.W. Norton.)

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