Today we concluded our 4 part series on the later Rilke, focussing especially on the Duino Elegies. Today we had the privilege of hearing Thomas Merton speak broadly about Rilke and the in a more focussed way about the Duino Elegies themselves. It may be little known but Merton saw Rilke as one of the most important poets to assist modern people in their search for an authentic connection to the divine. He gave a series of 12 lectures on Rilke which have been remastered and are available here: The Letters and Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke by Thomas Merton.
Today’s sessions began with an exploration of two of Rilke’s early poems, “The Panther & “The Swan”. “The Panther” illustrates a powerful line in the 9th Elegy where Rilke affirms the creative power, with which all human beings are endowed, of transforming what we see into deeply apprehended images of our own condition. This was Thomas Merton’s understanding of the significance of this poem, which you can hear in lecture 3 of his Rilke lectures. “The Swan” beautifully encapsulates Rilke’s sense of the seamless connection between life and death, which is also a core theme in the Ninth Duino Elegy.
Here is the Swan in a translation by Robert Bly:
This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is a letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each minute more fully grown,
more like a king, composed, farther and farther on.
And here is a wonderful reading of this poem by the Irish poet/raconteur David Whyte.
Here are the audio recordings from today’s session:
And here are the images that accompanied these seminars:
Thank you to all who took part to make this such a rich exchange of ideas and experiences!