Tuesday, April 13, 2010

exposed on the cliffs of my art with Rilke

Herausgestellt Auf Den Klippen Des Herzens
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Herausgestellt auf den Klippen des Herzens.
Schauen Sie, wie kleiner Abstieg dort,
Blick: das letzte Dorf von Wörtern und, höher,
(aber, wie klein) noch ein letztes
Bauernhaus Gefühl. Können Sie es sehen?
Herausgestellt auf den Klippen des Herzens. Stoneground
unter Ihren Händen. Sogar hier, obwohl,
etwas blühen kann; auf einem leisen Klipperand
blüht ein unknowing Betrieb und singt, in die Luft.
Aber das, wer weiß? Amperestunde, fing er an zu wissen
und ist Ruhe jetzt, herausgestellt auf den Klippen des Herzens.
Während, mit ihrem vollen Bewußtsein,
viele sicher-füßige Gebirgstiere überschreiten
oder zurückbleiben. Und die großen geschützten Vogelfliegen, langsam
kreisend, um die reine Ablehnung der Spitze ein. - Aber
ohne einen Schutz, hier auf den Klippen des Herzens…

[Exposed on the cliffs of the heart]

Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Look, how tiny down there,
look: the last village of words and, higher,
(but how tiny) still one last
farmhouse of feeling. Can you see it?
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Stoneground
under your hands. Even here, though,
something can bloom; on a still cliff-edge
blossoms an unknowing plant and sings, into the air.
But of this, who knows? Ah, he began to know
and is silent now, exposed on the cliffs of the heart.
While, filled with their knowing,
many sure-footed mountain animals leap ahead
or lag behind. And the great sheltering flocks fly, slowly
circling, wheeling about the unassailable summit. - But
without any shelter, here, on the cliffs of the heart...

Translation by Harry Kent


  1. Hello Harry. I recently tried to clear/clean the garage and among the long lost things found again is Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet. I started to read it (naturally) which meant the job of cleaning did not altogether go as planned. I did however manage to rediscover some of his lines about loneliness and the sufferings of the artist and the work of art that made me think of this post/poem.

    Rilke gives advice to the poet and the painter alike i think with "... love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you.... And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars and very large; rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you,..." (p. 39)

    Perhaps Rilke speaks of what constitutes the world an artist sees/creates/recreates - the lines, the dots, the dabs, the strokes ("markings" with which the painter and writer are concerned) - in terms of what can be seen from "the cliffs of the heart" and which the being sees as ever so small, so tiny for being so far away. From this position, loneliness prevails upon the soul but it is that from which "something can bloom".

    Rilke speaks of loneliness or solitude as essential to the work of art: "Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism." He seems to insist upon the solitude ofthe artist and the work to the exclusion of others; i.e. the judgment and recognition of others.

    At first I thought this antithetical to the ideal of a community of artists relating and helping each other along but I realise Rilke himself reaches out to the young poet with advice and subtle judgements. Somehow, I suppose, the relation must be along the lines of supporting each other in the contemplation and commitment to this essential solitude.

  2. Once again, Regina, you've got me thinking, and once again I find my response too long for the comments box. I'm on roll working up a self-portrait based on my image in a 'Claude mirror', but I'm very taken with what you've written and with a bit of luck I'll get to post my thoughts tommorrow. Thanks so much for this.

  3. Hello Harry,
    Just saw this thanks to your, "You might also like..." feature.
    Hope you don't mind, but I was so taken with it I downloaded it to be able to see it every day. It's fantastic and you should be so very proud and happy with this work.

  4. Your welcome, Gary. It's one of my earliest self-portraits (circa 2004), charcoal and watercolor. It is the first painting i ever sold. The buyer had it framed nicely. I felt quite honored. Glad it speaks to you.