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Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies: In The Light of Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism is an idealistic philosophical and social movement which developed in New England  around 19th century as a reaction to rationalism. They were highly Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy. They rejected the idea of narrow religion and rationality. They it thought that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were the central figures. It is basically the idea that our spirits have deep connection with nature and that our ideas “transcend” (or go beyond) the natural world as we see it. We are more “in tune” with nature and our mood is depicted by nature.

According to Immanuel Kant, in order to understand the nature of reality, one must first examine and analyze the reasoning process which governs the nature of experience. This is a system of philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical and material. Transcendentalism declared meaning in everything, and all meaning was good, part of and connected by divine plan.

Transcendentalism declared meaning in everything, and all meaning was good, part of and connected by divine plan. According to the Transcendentalists, everyone has the power to “transcend” the apparent confusion and chaos of the world and see order in nature’s design. All on earth have the divine “spark” within and thus all are part of the whole. This philosophy led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism and the value of the individual over society.They were inspired by  Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, spiritual poetry, haiku etc and examine their own religious assumptions against these scriptures. In their perspective, a loving God would not have led so much of humanity astray; there must be truth in these scriptures, too. They believed human existence as a medium of God’s existence.  In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds…A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.”

He celebrated  individualism in the light of humanity and spirituality.

“I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being               circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

          The pursuit of nature was most often a pursuit of the self, or of knowledge of the divine, without and within. Transcendentalist believed that  god or divinity can be found winthin our existence and through five sense.  They perceived a view that human being need awareness to feel the movement of the world and to dance with the rhythm of nature to reach enlightenment of beings.

While reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies are Eligies, poems that are lament over something, one can ask what is it the poet lamenting about, the answer can varied but the poems are mainly about human existence in relation to God and the world. Despite their lamentation represent reconciliation with life, and seek to bear witness to its underlying fountain of joy, the source and spring from which the stream of acceptance and creativity flows that allows us to endure our transient and often painful existence. Lament and joy for Rilke are two sides of the same coin of being, and his main concern is to reveal them in his poetry as aspects of the single whole, the double-realm.( Kline) These spiritual poems, starts with questions and confusions. He talks in great anguish about god, angel and our interpreted world. According to transcendentalist god can be known trough and by human existence. We are parts of god’s existence. Feelings, emotions, love, sorrow these are treasure of human beings to explore if we want to know God.               Rilke often expresses the feeling that his works were given to him and came from outside himself. Rilke is always self-centered, but always has wider relevance, is always personal but has claims to wider universality. He saw his constant task as transformation, of himself into another, of the world into the mind, of external phenomena into internal, things into thoughts, being into consciousness and becoming.( Kline)

Rilke begins the First Elegy with an intense questioning cry. And question how can angels can hear and understand human agony. The Angel seems to represent to Rilke an Idea of perfect internality, beyond human contradictions and limitations. Then he talks about the transformation, the goal towards the angels and then realizes the futility of that goal. Rilke’s reference to the “springtime’s,”  “the star,” “the wave,” “the violin” in the First Elegy in respect of their wish for appreciation and incapacity to respond to them is a fit occasion for his melancholy. When he asks, “But could you accomplish it?” he knows the answer will be negative because we are “always distracted by expectation.”  As if suddenly realizing says “there is no place where we can remain.” His despair is that we are not capable of executing the “mission,” and to find the divine source within our self. He wishfully longs for the blessedness of the early departed who enjoy not only the liberation from mundane miseries and found bliss “those who were carried off early no longer need us: / they are weaned from earth’s sorrows and joys.”

The Hero is another example of a human role that is re-incarnated through time and human memory, and perpetuated in art. He sacrificed himself through death and act as a statute behind whom the humanity stands. His fate is decided. And the lovers support to hide each other fate becomes the victims. Because we are always trying to be someone else, trying to follow the idol.

The second Elegy has shown us our immediate limitations to become timeless. Rilke talks about the self and the universe at the same time, he is asking to go deeper in to our being to find meaning purpose of life. He declared ~

“But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we

Breathe ourselves out and away; from moment to moment

our emotion grows fainter, like a perfume. Though someone may tell us:

“Yes, you’ve entered my bloodstream, the room, the whole springtime

is filled with you…”—what does it matter? He can’t contain us,

we vanish inside him and around him.” (Third Elegy).

          He offers possibilities for inner growth with spiritual dimensions, even though he often looks for the crucial problem of our beings. Also another transcendentalist element which is dark romanticism is notable in his style, his sensual words creates dark, gothic aura. While describing angels and God he describes something that is fading away like a perfume’s fragrance.

Rilke’s approach lament relates to pinpointing existential problems. In the Fourth Elegy, he berates the lovers who have reduced their relationship to a charade, which is why they had already incurred  the poet’s displeasure in the Second Elegy as to an exigent need to understand their true self: “lovers, are you the same?”

“We, though, while we are intent on one thing, wholly,

feel the loss of some other. Enmity

is our neighbor.”

          Rilke goes on to diagnose the human condition, and its many limitations, as he sees it. Humans have divided goals, and while trying to complete one task we are already thinking of another, our inability to possess both in the one moment causing a sense of loss and frustration. Conflict and an enmity between goals are always with us, and circumstances may seem hostile simply because of our inability to read life’s depths. Our meaningless effort to struggle, to live life separate us from the cosmic consciousness and we forget the power of human experiences. Death gives life greater significance, because consciousness of it leads to whole vision, and complete transformation.

The fifth elegy talks about human activity, their repetition to reach the final performance, a never achieving goal.  Human being always tries to be perfect, the always try to make their work flawless and to discipline themselves the follows a tedious routine. The lover suffers for their empty soul and meaninglessness. He lament for the pathetic side of human existence and their conflicts.  He searches for innocence.

His lament moves into a metaphysical realm till the Eighth Elegy.

“The creature gazes into openness with all

its eyes. But our eyes are

as if they were reversed, and surround it,

everywhere, like barriers against its free passage.”

      Rilke’s openness is the eternal and infinite nature of reality, into which the creatures gaze, while we set up barriers against it, and seek to contain the world and grasp it. He separate human consciousness from animal consciousness. And talks about human perception and how a child sees the world. How our self awareness and creation makes us outsider in this world.  How we fill our mind and death empties us.

The ninth elegy moves toward the justification of our being. He ask and examine that the world really needs us.

“everything here

apparently needs us,this fleeting world,

 which in some strange way

keeps calling to us……..

But because being here is much, and because all

that’s here seems to need us, the ephemeral, that

strangely concerns us.”

     Rilke seek justification for human conditions, he seems to ask that how do we take this human experience beyond death. Here he weigh the power of human existence, their power to be one with love, to live in the moment even when they are aware of death. Also Rilke says that death is the ultimate transformer of human existence, it takes us to the beyond. Death complete human beings, death is the inspiration to live. Transcendentalism celebrates every single aspects of human life even death. Because it’s the path that complete a life spans. Death justifies all the human condition.

“How we gaze beyond them into duration’s sadness,

to see if they have an end. Though they are nothing but

our winter-suffering foliage, our dark evergreen,

one of the seasons of our inner year – not only

season – : but place, settlement, camp, soil, dwelling.”

         Tenth elegy talks about all the earthy anguish, the pain of the materialistic, the death of the young, the lure of the money and things money can buy he mentions them all. Also describes a ghostly atmosphere full with spirit who died and souls who are suffering in the world.

“And they are astonished by the regal head, that forever,

silently, positioned the human face

in the scale of the stars.”

         Mentioning the Sphinx from Egypt he portray a picture of an wasteland. Rilke shows the importance of death and how death can give meaning to life, can guide humanity by offering different morality. Human beings always judging happiness to be the only goal in life, forgets that underneath joy or sorrow the opposite exists. Because everything is at one, we are just part of the bigger picture, because love contains everything. Human existence with its lament and sadness contains an overpowering flow of happiness, but one must have the courage to take it all at once to transcendent.  Only then one can go beyond. Rilke goes through this alchemic transformation while writing the ten elegies. He describes the value of human existence and how it can be a plane to reach enlightenment.

Work sited

A year with Rilke. http://yearwithrilke.blogspot.com/

Dash, Bibhudutt  “Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Tennyson’s In Memoriam: An Anatomy of Lament ”. Web.

Kline,  A. S. “The Fountain of Joy:A Line-by-Line Commentary on Rilke’s Duino Elegies” 2009.web.

Lewis ,Jone Johnson “What is Transcendentalism?”

Mitchell, Stephen, trans. and ed. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria  Rilke. London:Picador, 1982.

Pettersson, Torsten. “Internalization and Death: A Reinterpretation of Rilke  ‘Duineser Elegien.’” The Modern Language Review, 1999. Vol. 94,No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 731-743.

Rainer Maria Rilke and Solitude. Web.  http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/rilke.html

“Why Mr. Emerson is Your Friend” SERMON FOR UU CHURCH. August 29, 2011. Web.


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Modern Poetry: A Radical Shift from Conventional Poetry in Reference To Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings and D.H. Lawrence

Jessica Islam
ENG 445, Modern Poetry
14 December 2011
Modern Poetry: A Radical Shift from Conventional Poetry in Reference To
Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings and D.H. Lawrence
Modernist poetry in English emerged in the early years of the 20th century with the appearance of the Imagists. Inspired by Avant-garde they wanted to replace the typical romantics with daring originality. Modernists saw themselves as looking back to the best practices of poets in earlier periods and other cultures. Their models included ancient Greek literature, Chinese and Japanese poetry, the troubadours, Dante and the medieval Italian philosophical poets and the English Metaphysical poets. These writers believed that romantic art was over-subjective, and argued for a renewed emphasis on the object-like nature of the art work. The questions of impersonality and objectivity seem to be crucial to Modernist poetry. Modernism developed out of a tradition of lyrical expression, emphasizing the personal imagination, culture, emotions and memories of the poet. For the modernists, it was essential to move away from the merely personal towards an intellectual statement that poetry could make about the world. After World War II, a new generation of poets sought to revoke the effort of their predecessors towards impersonality and objectivity.
Writers at these time was seeking to create a modern mode of writing which would provide a flexible alternative to the Victorian mode, and satisfy a new aesthetic criterion based not on emotional indulgence but on the precision of the writing itself. In juxtaposition of subjectivity of romanticism, the idea of objective presentation style seemed more promising and revolutionary.
Writers thus took the risk of experimenting with new style, language and mainly completely changed the conventional way of poetry.
Modern elements in writing of some prominent writers will be discussed here.
Ezra pound was one the pioneer and major personality of modernist movement. His poems were the first glimpse of imagism and his experiment with style made people think outside of the box. He tried to capture a single moment with direct simple language in a way so that the aesthetic value of the moment remains true. The problem with romantic poets was their subjectivity ignored the total dilemma of life. So Ezra Pound presents the idea to write about the whole picture. He was influenced by the Greek language and Japanese haiku poems.
Greek inspired him because of the directness in the language and haiku poems mainly 3-5lines poem that holds Simplified version of truth and dilemma of life and express inexpressible Zen philosophy.
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

In a station of the metro is one of the imagist poem of Pound describes a moment in the underground metro station in Paris in 1912; Pound suggested that the faces of the individuals in the metro were best put into a poem not with a description but with an “equation”. This poem does not have any verb or apparent rhyme scheme and simile. In this poem we can see that a ghostly crowd moving and the two beautiful faces are compared with nature here. Interestingly here we can find almost all the modern elements, e.g. urbanization, eroticism and dehumanization.

Cumming’s typical style was blizzard of punctuation, the words running together or suddenly breaking part, the type spilling like a liquid from one line to the next. He hardly even paid any attention to the syntax of things. Cummings once declared,
“So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality [. . .] Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else.”
As a painter he adopt a style which was difficult to analyze but easy to feel. It’s hard to put any syntactic meaning to his abstract style of poetry. Cummings was also an artist, and took great pains with the layout and typography of his poems. He was a rebel who spoiled the young with his art but was not taken very seriously at his time. E. E. Cummings, for all his unconventionality, made use of many classical poetical associations, metaphors and devices: Spring – love-flowers and the contrast of love and joy with death and the human condition.
His ideology was that love, feelings, passion these are far more important than rational, constructive intellectualism.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
“Kisses are a far better fate than wisdom” might well be his goal, similar to romantics but he wrote in the language of modern man.He was driven by the idea “make it look easy.” The cynical tone and intellectual concern was missing but that does not mean that his art was any less than the other poets. The lack of formal conventional versification and of obvious rhythm and rhyme, conceals the great efforts that Cummings often made to ensure that the music and melody of his poems were perfect. These are evident in his readings, and indeed, several of his poems have been set to music.

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

The line is abstract and talks about distinct feelings. There can be many interpretation of the lines but no logical analysis. Use of unique figure of speech, lack of punctuation, grammatically incorrect, fragment and of course the use of lower case alphabet made him a rebel even among the modern poets.

Cummings’ poems, like the rain, and roses and stars and the magic of love, are there for readers to enjoy and feel.

D.H. Lawrence’s poetic work is often described as visionary, prophetic, and Romantic in intent. Furthermore, Lawrence insisted that his work be read as an autobiography. His poems are written in a very free verse form, unbounded by traditional structures. The results are fresh, arresting, and full of verbal dexterity. He was especially fond of writing about animals, flowers, and other aspects of nature – usually in a deeply symbolic manner. He was intrigued by the Freud’s psychological analysis and human mind.
Lawrence appealed to the Modernists because of his love of natural speech rhythms (a major part of Modernism was getting away from the stilted vocabulary and artificial language of the poets of the late nineteenth century) and also because his poems use a scientific objectivism when they describe animals Ezra Pound called this ‘direct treatment of the object. Pre-modernist poets usually described animals in a flowery and sentimentalized language, modernist tried to be as objective – even scientific – as they could. In many ways Lawrence’ animal poems go even further than the Modernists did.

In his poem “Snake” talk about a real story with the collectivity of myths, religion and physiological note. He was also influenced by metaphysical poets like George Herbert. He adopted the idea of shaped poetry from metaphysical poets and rather than showing the connection with god and human beings, he reveal the psyche of modern man. In the poem “snake” he show us that modern man is torn between the cultural education, religion and his own mind. How people lose control over the consciousness and unconsciously his primitive perversion for snake take over. Lawrence’s motive arises from his “accursed human education,” which teaches not only that venomous snakes are to be killed on sight but that the earth itself, creator and destroyer, is terrible. We see the procrastination of a man in this poem, the indecision if he should hit the snake or not. He indicates snake as one of the lords of life who is waiting for a second coming. The poem depicts a living creature that might remind one of the Christian God. Christ prepares for his second coming in which he will judge the good and the evil and send the former into heaven, and the latter “into outer darkness”; and the snake, Lawrence, suggests, is “Now due to be crowned again” like Christ.
His poem can also be read erotically, as Lawrence’s vision of a phallic serpent, the demonic seducer of Eve in the Garden of Eden, hanging out of and re-entering the body of a firy procreative Earth. Given Lawrence’s extraordinary visions of sex and death, such a reading can no doubt be sustained, although children of all ages, in and out of school, might be forgiven for missing the point, believing that he really did meet a snake one day at the water-trough and wrote the poem. Interestingly at the end of the poem he think for repentance and probably suggest that how modern man should seek salvation.

As Ezra pound declared “make it new” modern poets tried to break away the conventional way of writing poetry and moreover brought poetry to a new era.

Work cited

A Brief Guide to Imagism . poetry.org.web.
Bradbury,Malcolm and Mcfarlane, James. “The Name and Nature of Modernism”. P.19-55
Lancashire,Ian Commentary . 9.9.2002.
Kirsch,Adam.”The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings”.March-April 2005. Web.
“Reading and understanding E. E. Cummings.” Yu-hu.com. web.

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