Thursday, November 22, 2007

Excerpts from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

Two excerpts from Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. First about "a death of one's own" and the second about poetry and experience. The opening paragraph of the book was featured in the post on German Literature Quiz (number 9)

And when I think about the others I have seen or heard of: it is always the same. They all had a death of their own. Those men who carried it in their armour, inside themselves, like a prisoner; those women who grew very old and small, and then on an enormous bed, as if on the stage of a theatre, in front of the whole family and the assembled servants and dogs, discreetly and with the greatest dignity passed away. The children too, even the very small ones, didn't have just any child's death; they gathered themselves and died what they already were and what they would have become.

And what a melancholy beauty this gave to women when they were pregnant and stood there, with their slender hands instinctively resting on their large bellies, in which there were two fruits: a child and a death. Didn't the dense, almost nourishing smile on their emptied faces come from their sometimes feeling that both were growing inside them?


Ah, but poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simple emotions (one has emotions early enough)--they are experiences. For the sake of a simple poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighbourhoods, to unexpected encounters and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else--); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,--and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labour, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very well blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

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