Tag Archives: Rilke

R- Auguste Rodin- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Didn’t need to think twice about choosing today’s artist, French Sculptor, August Rodin (1840-1917). Well, I did consider Peter Paul Rubens rather seriously, because I was totally spellbound by his Marie de’ Medici Cycle when I visited the Louvre. The collection has its own room and I remember just sitting in there soaking it all up, suddenly understanding why Australian artists like Norman and Lionel Lindsay opposed the coming of Modernist art to Australia. These paintings had such a serene beauty.
However, during my time in Paris I must’ve been immersed in so much art, although I was oblivious at the time…the Louvre, Musee d”Orsay and the Musee Rodin. I experienced an incomprehensible art explosion right inside my head.  However, this was just what it meant to be in Paris, and I was there for six weeks in 1992. Rather than the “City of Lights”, they could well rebadge Paris as “the City of Art Galleries”.
It was during this time, that I visited the Musee Rodin. We were staying at the Hotel Henri IV on the Isle de Paris which used to house Henri IV’s printing presses. The tarif included a continental breakfast, which was served in a breakfast room downstairs. This is where we met a couple of Americans. One of them had lived in Paris and became our tour guide, taking us to the Musee Rodin, which knocked my socks off.
It was there that I met The Thinker, whose previous title had actually been: The Poet. In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I was very much a poet back in my university days and that was even my way of communicating with my family and friends…”I’ve got a poem,” my Dad announced in his speech at my 21st birthday. Indeed, while I was in Paris I did a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop from my self-published anthology: Locked Inside an Inner Labyrinth.
The Kiss Musee Rodin

Auguste Rodin: The Kiss, Musee Rodin, Paris.

 Being 22 years old and in the throws of romantic angst, seeing The Kiss was equally electric and it was like a lightening bolt had struck me on the head switching all my neurones on at once…BANG. Fireworks! Being a passionate Keats’ fan, his Ode to A Grecian Urn came to mind, although Rodin’s lovers were froze in an eternal embrace, rather than the frustration of the eternal chase.
Reflecting on The Thinker, I thought John Farnham’s The Voice was a suitable musical choice. That The Thinker indeed has a voice, which I guess is a rather quirky idea for a statue. However, after being stuck inside my own body both through disability or sheer nerves, I understand that just because you can’t move and might be trapped inside your body, that you still have a voice and you need to use it…speak up and speak out.
Rodin The Walking Man (1877-78)
Before moving on to the inspiration behind these works, I’d also like to touch on The Walking Man…an incomplete state with its head missing. For some strange reason, I find myself mysteriously drawn towards it. There’s also The Cathedral where two right hands of separate people come together. Yet, there is a space between them, which Rodin describes. Parallels may be drawn between the mysterious inner space that seems to emanate from the composition and Gothic architecture. Emptiness was a factor that Rodin used to allow for, and, as Rilke pointed out, “the role of air had always been extremely important” for him (Rilke, 1928). 1.
The Cathedral

Auguste Rodin, The Cathedral, Musee Rodin.

It took me many years to appreciate that space could well be equally important as content. Indeed, I had that epiphany when I was in my son’s classroom when I was helping the littlies learn how to write. Most wanted to run all their words together and there was that constant reminder to “leave a finger pace”, which for those young beginners, actually meant putting their index finger down on the page in between the words. It was also a very visual representation of the space, the rest, we need in our daily lives to stay healthy and sane. That even the most active thinkers, need to let the cogs rest and nod off. Sleep isn’t a waste of time.
Both The Thinker and The Kiss were part of a larger work The Gates of Hell, which Rodin was commissioned to create a portal for Paris’ planned Museum of Decorative Arts in 1880. The museum was never built. However, Rodin worked throughout his life on a monumental sculptural group depicting scenes from Dante’s Inferno in high relief. Often lacking a clear conception of his major works, Rodin compensated with hard work and a striving for perfection. 1.
Edvard Munch Le Penseur de Rodin

Edvard Munch, Le Penseur de Rodin dans le parc du Docteur Linde à Lübeck, 1907, [P.7612]

Revisiting The Thinker now, I’m struck by his physical fitness. The veins are literally popping out of his calves and he is buff. He’s quite literally a muscular man of action, a verb, not some weedy nerd too weak to grip hold of his pen. He wasn’t a procrastinator either. Rather, his thoughts were a precursor to action…a combination of the intellect and the physical, which can so often be mutually exclusive. He was the full package.

Meanwhile, in 1887, Rodin produced The Kiss, a marble sculpture

originally representing Paolo and Francesca, two characters borrowed from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Slain by Francesca’s husband who surprised them while exchanging their first kiss, the two lovers were condemned to wander eternally through Hell. This group, designed in the early stages of the elaboration of The Gates, was given a prominent position on the lower left door, opposite Ugolino, until 1886, when Rodin decided that this depiction of happiness and sensuality was incongruous with the theme of his vast project. He therefore transformed the group into an independent work and exhibited it in 1887, when the public called it The Kiss. The French state commissioned an enlarged version in marble, which Rodin took nearly ten years to deliver. Not until 1898 did he agree to exhibit what he called his “huge knick-knack” as a companion piece to his audacious Balzac , as if The Kiss would make it easier for the public to accept his portrait of the writer 3.

Before I launch into my letter to Rodin, I wanted to touch on his friendship with the German poet Maria Rilke. Indeed, I wrote to Rilke two years ago in my first series: Writing Letters to Dead Poets. I was stoked to stumble across his Letters to A Young Poet. Indeed, I feel rather ripped off that I didn’t hear about it til I was a middle-aged poet in my 40s. Why didn’t I hear about it at school, or even university? They were too busy teaching the likes of algebra, which are of no use to a poet.
Here’s a poem Rilke wrote about Rodin’s Archaic Torso of Apollo:

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 18751926

After covering so much ground, midnight will soon be upon me and another day and another artist will be dawning, before my letter to Rodin is even done.

A Letter to Auguste Rodin

 Dear Rodin,

How I wish I could spend even just one day in Paris with you. That said, I don’t even know where I’d start but a cafe au lait and a croissant at Les Deux Maggots would be a great start. There’s something about having a coffee in Paris which truly stimulates and captivates the brain cells.I would love to photograph your hands holding a simple, everyday coffee cup like any other ordinary man. Yes, these very same hands which miraculously created, or is that captured, the very essence of what it means to be human. You have understood us to the marrow. How did you do it? Most of humanity even struggles to make a paper plane that can fly.
How can you stare into a person’s soul and not burn up like a moth into the proverbial candle flame? Too many creatives, see and feel too much and combust, just like Picasso’s dear friend.
I also thought we might go for a walk through Père Lachaise Cemetery. No doubt many of your friends are buried there and we could go and visit Jimmy Morrison’s grave like nearly everybody else who goes to Paris these days of a certain age. I’d also like to go back to the Shakespeare Bookshop, although I’m far from prepared for a reading. However, I would like to tell them abut when I was there last and even give them the photos. I am quite proud to be a part of their history, even if I didn’t even rate a footnote in the book. Then, perhaps we could eat baguette and fromage beside the River Seine. I really have simple tastes but if you’d rather swing from the chandelier and live the high life, I’m more than happy to join you. That said, you’re paying.
Best wishes,
Rowena
PS I thought you might like this portrait of me when I was about 6 months old. I also call it: “The Thinker”
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Rowena’s: The Thinker…Clearly a very clever baby and a real philosopher.

A Letter From Rodin

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and inspirational photo, which I would turn into a sculpture myself if I was still around. The Baby Thinker has a ring to it.
There was much discussion around the cafe table here about who was going to be next, and I was most surprised and delighted that it was me.  Of course, Renoir thought he was a sure thing. After all, his Bal du moulin de la Galette is hanging on your parents’ wall and much to Nolan’s disgust, could well have displaced his Ned Kelly. With all Renoir’s bravado, Rubens stormed out. He saw you photographing his Self-Portrait at the Museum of NSW only yesterday and was convinced he was the one. So, thank you very much for choosing me. It’s enough to even make The Thinker jump off off his pedestal with an almighty: “Eureka!” You see, although he’s been sitting there brooding on his thoughts all these years, he never was the silent type.
I asked The Thinker what he wanted to say to you, and although I found it rather cryptic, perhaps it will make more sense to you:

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.”

Make of that what you will.

Anyway, knowing how much you loved Rilke’s Letters to Young Poets, I thought I’d share my theories with you on what it means to be an artist…

What It Means To Be An Artist – By Me

  • “The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.”
  • To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.
  • To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.
  • In short, Beauty is everywhere. It is not that she is lacking to our eye, but our eyes which fail to perceive her. Beauty is character and expression. Well, there is nothing in nature which has more character than the human body. In its strength and its grace it evokes the most varied images. One moment it resembles a flower: the bending torso is the stalk; the breasts, the head, and the splendor of the hair answer to the blossoming of the corolla. The next moment it recalls the pliant creeper, or the proud and upright sapling.
  • Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which nature herself is animated.
  • The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist!
  • The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.
  • There are unknown forces in nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she lends them to us; she shows us these forms, which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.
  • The human body is first and foremost a mirror to the soul and its greatest beauty comes from that.
  • The work of art is already within the block of marble. I just chop off whatever isn’t needed.
  • The artist enriches the soul of humanity. The artist delights people with a thousand different shades of feeling.
  • Love your calling with passion, it is the meaning of your life.

Well, Rowena. That was some coffee. My thinking cap’s almost blown a gasket coming up with all of those gems. I hope you like them. They’re my personal gift to you.

 

Yours in friendship,

Rodin.

PS Did you know that the first version of The Thinker is actually in Australia? Sorry, it’s not in your Art Gallery of NSW, but it is in Art Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. I know you’ve spent more time in Paris, than in Melbourne, but it’s worth the trip and you should also keep your eyes open for all the other genius works of art that are in Australia. You often just need to look under your nose and don’t need to wait until you can afford the big trip.

References & Further Reading

1)Rodin- The Cathedral

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Rodin

3) http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/kiss

R-Rilke Replies: Letters To A Young Poet #atozchallenge.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your stimulating letter and for seeking my advice. As I understand you’ve been quite particular with your selection, I am honoured to be chosen and delighted that my words have moved and inspired you. Of course, when you die, you quite expect that one day you’ll be forgot. So, indeed, I am chuffed!

Of course, being underground, I miss nature’s beauty, especially that burst of vibrant colour each Spring. How I loved reading Mogens by Jens Peter Jacobsen and his rich descriptions of the trees, their leaves and all their infinitesimal detail. Alas, now I must rely on memory and pictures painted in my head.

I am not lonely here. The worms bring me leaves and their stories and dead poets know how to talk what with Dorothy Parker and her friends at the Algonquin Round Table  and Keats and his Royal Society of Dead Poets. So, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”.

Yet, your letter brought much joy and I thank you for your great and welcome trust.

As far as to whether my advice to young poets is still useful, I’ll leave that up to you. It’s been some time since I’ve stuck my head above ground. However, despite the grave perils of becoming a poet, I’ll reiterate my advice to young Kappus:

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…[1]

Violin & concert violinist music

By the way, as a violinist, I knew you would appreciate this poem:

At The Brink Of Night

My room and this distance,
awake upon the darkening land,
are one. I am a string
stretched across deep
surging resonance.

Things are violin bodies
full of murmuring darkness,
where women’s weeping dreams,
where the rancor of whole generations
stirs in its sleep . . .
I should release
my silver vibrations: then
everything below me will live,
and whatever strays into things
will seek the light
that falls without end from my dancing tone
into the old abysses
around which heaven swells
through narrow
imploring
rifts.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Lastly, I encourage you to keep asking questions:

“Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Anyway, you must leave. Your train is now due to depart.

Yours,

Rainer Maria Rainer.

 

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters To A Young Poet, Dover Publication, 2002 p. 12.

R-Rilke: Letters to A Young Poet #atozchallenge.

Dear Rilke,

I am writing to you during my series of Letters to Dead Poets.

Indeed, this series was inspired by your book: Letters to A Young Poet, which contains your correspondence with a young German poet: Franz Xavier Kappus dating from February 17th, 1903 to December 1908. Kappus sent you some of his poems, essentially asking your opinion. Was he good enough to be a poet? Or, should he abandon his dreams? That was pretty much the gist of his first letter.

Unfortunately, I only came across these letters when I was a middle-aged poet, whose poetry had been swamped by the realities of growing up. Yet, somehow my inner poet rekindled and we finally met finding that your advice for young Kappus still held true.

Recently, your letters inspired my own series Letters to Dead Poets… as well as their endless questions! I wasn’t intending to explore the great questions of life. Rather, I came up with the theme for a simple blogging challenge where you write your way through the alphabet during April and many of us have a theme. I had been intending to write about Sydney landmarks but didn’t have time to take the photos and thought this would be an easier choice. While the theme might sound rather morbid, it was actually meant to involve a bit of humour. The only trouble was that most of the poets who’ve inspired me, weren’t funny and had more than truly wandered onto the dark side of the force. So, this has actually been a rather probing journey and nothing like light entertainment.

However, as my husband pointed out, the” lightness of being” has never been my thing[1].

Initially, the plan was to keep these letters short and sweet, moving through the poets like an express train roaring through stations, taking very quick and limited stops. In retrospect, that was wishful, short-sighted thinking. After all, how could I ever engage in any kind of conversation with such minds and not explore the heights and depths of what it means to be human?

I can assure you that’s no quick conversation!

So, I’m retreating  to my cave with a different poet every day and on some days even two, while still trying to juggle the realities of life like what we’re having for dinner and needing to wash a stinky dog. To be honest, it’s become something of an orgy of ideas and I’m absolutely exhausted from so much delight. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind booking myself into some kind of facility where I could write all day and collect my meals at the door. Of course, I have no intention of staying. I’d simply be on “sabbatical”!

After all, I love my family and I love living life, which is what’s given me the strength and resilience to delve into some pretty hard questions and the journey isn’t over yet. Indeed, the end isn’t anywhere in sight. Or, is it? I’m so immersed in the journey that I don’t even know where I am.

rainer_maria_rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

This brings me back to you. Indeed, as young Kappus said:

“And where a great and unique man speaks, small men must keep silence.”

Franz Xavier Kappus 1929.

While you exchanged letters with Kappus just over a hundred years ago, my question is: Would you offer the same advice to young poets now in the 21st Century?

The world has changed a lot but have people at their core still stayed much the same? Does a young person need to go through pretty much the same apprenticeship to become a poet? Or, would you actually advise them not to become a poet at all? Tell them to “go and get a real job”? That being a poet doesn’t pay. That indeed, too many poets have paid with their lives for the privilege and that’s too much!

Why become a poet when there’s such a smorgasbord of alternatives which aren’t such a risk? Safe, secure jobs, which don’t take you to the very depths and dump you there. Leave you  without a thread to find your way out of the labyrinth? Indeed, could it be that staying skin deep could actually be a better road? Just keep on looking forward. Indeed, peer deep into your phone and never glance away.

Of course, I’m not asking you these questions to just to fill the page. I have two kids. While many parents would be thrilled to have their kids follow in their footsteps, I definitely do not want my kids following in mind. Indeed, I pray that a river washes my footsteps away, so they have to blaze their own trail.

Scan10538

My feet photographed in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris in July 1992.

After all, you ask any parent what they truly want for their kids and they all say the same thing …”I just want them to be happy”.

Yet, does being a poet make you happy? Indeed, is being a poet the exact antithesis of happy?

It’s not looking good. Indeed, suicide, depression, drug abuse, all seem to be our tools of trade. That’s hardly an endorsement!

Mind you, I also wonder whether writing poetry actually lets the darkness out. That it’s actually therapeutic.

I understand you were very influenced by Jens Peter Jacobsen who wrote:

 “Know ye not that there is here in this world a secret confraternity, which one might call the Company of Melancholiacs? That people there are who by natural constitution have been given a different nature and disposition than the others; that have a larger heart and a swifter blood, that wish and demand more, have stronger desires and a yearning which is wilder and more ardent than that of the common herd. They are fleet as children over whose birth good fairies have presided; their eyes are opened wider; their senses are more subtle in all their perceptions. The gladness and joy of life, they drink with the roots of their heart, the while the others merely grasp them with coarse hands.”

Jens Peter Jacobsen

What do you think?

Or, is the jury still out?

This brings me to the question of Paris. In a letter to Lou Andreas-Salome you compared Paris to the Military Academy and you “could not say worse than that” and “Often before going to sleep I read the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Job, and it was all true of me, word for word[2]”:

“I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
21 You turn on me ruthlessly;
with the might of your hand you attack me.
22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;
you toss me about in the storm.
23 I know you will bring me down to death,
to the place appointed for all the living.

24 “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man
when he cries for help in his distress.
25 Have I not wept for those in trouble?
Has not my soul grieved for the poor?
26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came;
when I looked for light, then came darkness.
27 The churning inside me never stops;
days of suffering confront me.
28 I go about blackened, but not by the sun;
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
29 I have become a brother of jackals,
a companion of owls.
30 My skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.
31 My lyre is tuned to mourning,
and my pipe to the sound of wailing.

Job 30: 20-31.

I was rather surprised to read about your disdain for Paris. Yet, I related to much of what you wrote. Like you were pining for the vastness of the Russian Plains, I initially found Paris very noisy and claustrophobic. Indeed, I started thinking about a train trip I’d taken on the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth across that vast expanse,  the Nullarbor Plain. Oh to be an eagle able to take off and spread my majestic wings without flying straight into a wall!!

330px-Nullabor_plain_from_the_indian_pacific

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice that too many poets have been casualties in Paris. Jimmy Morrison mysteriously met his end in a bathtub in Paris and Oscar Wilde died destitute in his Paris hotel. Is it no coincidence that the world most famous cemetery x is located there?

I don’t know. Do you believe in coincidence? Or, was there some dark influence at work? That at the very heart of the light, there is also the shadow? That life itself is all about this intimate dance and fusion of light and dark?

Anyway, getting back to young poets, my son is only 12 but I wanted to show you a poem he wrote recently for school. I was rather impressed and while I gave him a hand, it was all his own work. I would really appreciate your opinion and a bit of advice.

Do you still believe there’s a place for poets in our world or must we all go out and get a real job?

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

 Through My Window

Looking out my window,
I hear a sound.
Scutter scutter.
Scutter scutter.
Out in the garden,
there’s a little white rabbit.
Mum!
Dad!
But when we get back,
it’s gone…
just like a puff of smoke.

No one believes me.
They just say
that I’m dreaming.
Imagination overload
all over again.
But I know what I saw.

Now,
that I’m back here alone,
the rabbit returns.
It’s glowing gold,
red eyes flashing
in the darkness.
What is it?
Why has it come?

Then, I blink again.
The rabbit burns up into flames
with an even brighter glow
and is gone.

In the morning,
I found no rabbit prints

in the grass.

No sign of the rabbit at all.
Yet,

I know what I saw…

a mysterious rabbit

hopping outside

my bedroom window.

By Mr J

 

[1] Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

[2] Reginald Snell: “Introduction”, Letters to A Young Poet, Dover Publication, New York p. 5.