From “the Sonnets to Orpheus”- A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke 

Context: Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. He wrote both poetry and lyrical prose. Rilke was born into the Austria-Hungarian Empire and lived his earliest years in Prague. His childhood is described as an unhappy one with estranged relations to both parents. Their marriage was not happy and the father had a failed military career while his mother never recovered from the loss of an infant child. His parents pressured the poetically and artistically talented youth into entering a military academy, which he attended from 1886 until 1891, when he left because of an illness.

From 1892 to 1895 he was tutored for the university entrance exam, which he passed in 1895. Until 1896 he studied literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and München. In 1897 in Munich, Rainer Maria Rilke met and fell in love with the widely travelled, intellectual woman of letters Lou Andreas-Salomé who once had a “romance” with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Rilke changed his first name from “René” to “Rainer” at Lou’s urging because she thought that name to be more masculine, forceful, and Germanic. His relationship with this married woman, with whom he undertook two extensive trips to Russia, lasted until 1900. But even after their separation, Lou continued to be Rilke’s most important confidante until the end of his life. Having trained from 1912 to 1913 as a psychoanalyst with Sigmund Freud, she shared her knowledge of psychoanalysis with Rilke.

Rilke died in the arms of his doctor on December 29, 1926 in Schweiz. The leukemia which killed him had been almost reluctantly diagnosed.

Themes: With news of the death of his daughter’s friend, Wera Knoop (1900–1919), Rilke was inspired to create and set to work on Sonnets to Orpheus. In this section of the sonnets (XVI) which I’ve translated myself from German 🙂 ; we encounter friendship and death as major themes.

XVI.

You, my friend, me alone, because…

We make through words and finger signs

an attempt to claim the world,

maybe its weakest and most horrible parts.

Who will point with the fingers to a smell? –

But from the Powers, which threaten us,

you can feel many…You know the Dead Ones,

and you are afraid of magic spells.

Look, now we must endure it together

Bits and pieces as it was a whole.

You, it will be difficult to help. For all: plant

me not in your heart.

I will grow too fast.

Though, my Lord’s hand will I take and say:

Here. That is Esau in his fur.

Sources

wikipedia.org

Rilke in Switzerland two years before his death in 1926.

Sonnet 43 – A poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Context: E.B Browning (1806-1861) was a poet within the Romantic tradition. She was born in England, but her poetry became famous in both England and the US. This poem was published in Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and published first during 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets. This poem was written in 1845 and is one of her most wellknown poems. As a person she was very shy and needed her husband to convince her publish them. She also thought her verse was too private. Elizabeth’s work had a major influence on prominent writers of the day, including the American poets Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. 

Themes: Love is the major theme. Much of Barrett Browning’s work carries a religious theme. She had read and studied such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 30 and Proust

My blog will soon introduce you to Proust’s seven books long novel À la recherche du temps perdu 1 so I think it’s fitting to let you read Shakespeare’s sonnet no. 30 which contains the title of Proust’s work. Proust chose the title from this very sonnet because he thought it summed up everything his novel is about. After reading the sonnet myself; I think he was pretty right. It does fit the proustian mood.

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste;

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

And weep afresh love’s long since canceled woe,

And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

Marcel Proust

  1. English variations of the title: “In Search of Lost Time” or “Remembrance of Things Past”.