“Childhood”-By Rainer Maria Rilke

It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely -and why?

We’re still reminded-: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on

as back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.

And became as lonely as a sheperd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
and summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us. 


I am fascinated by the long sentence that pushes us breath-takingly forward in Rilke’s imagination.In an almost  mystical turn of phrase  we move  forward from long childhood afternoons, now only a memory in rain, to a state of being when nothing happens to us except to what happens to things and beings, a time of meetings and re-unions, a time of passing on.We live their world as if it is something human, our own little world ,filled to the brim with their figures.

The sentence does not stop there.It moves further on as a lonely shepherd  and as overburdened by vast distances. A beautiful picture of a shepherd overlooking his flock across the vastness of the mountain slopes. “summoned and stirred from far away” by the call of the infinite space, the movement of the shepherd with the flock is as one single mass,as though the world is moving in time,overburdened by vast spaces.

The picture sequence is through a thread that connects the childhood state of nothing happening to us except what happens to things and beings with the bewildering present of having to go now on. The sequence is of a series of images beginning with ‘long childhood afternoons’ , now and then recalled by rain but you are not sure what was lost but only reminded about them. Then you became as lonely as a shepherd  overburdened  by vast distances.Picture the transition from “nothing happens to us except what happens to things and creatures” to a lonely shepherd,  impelled by a summon from the infinite spaces to straddle vast distances in time and space. Now everything happens to us,not what happens to other things and creatures and in this we are a lonely shepherd in the mountains and now are bewildered by having to go on. From a passive childhood state of letting things happen as they would, we are now moving on, summoned by a call of the vast spaces ahead  towards eternity.

There are only two sentences in the poem. The first one deals with childhood, where things happened as they would to other things and beings-a passive state of being and the sentence is relatively shorter, ending with a question-and why?The second one seems going on and on , dealing with a shepherd with vast distances before him stretching infinitely.

Yonder before us lie vast deserts of eternity“(Andrew Marvel)

If music be the food of love, play on..

If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough; no more.
’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Methought she purged the air of pestilence.
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E’er since pursue me.

William Shakespeare

Cover of William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night William Shakespeare

The pretty imagery used here almost misleads the reader away from the essential hollowness of what Duke Orsino speaks in these opening lines of Twelfth Night. Music being the food of love is a pretty pretty image but not when Orsino uses it to describe his own love experience. Remember , he says if music be the food of love , play on. Not that he cares much for the music nor is he a connoisseur of the arts.He looks at music as a mere prop to his own imagined romantic love , to playing an unrequited lover to Olivia. Orsino wants excess of it, so that the surfeit will sicken the appetite and die.Here is a guy who loves being in love , for the experience and insists on all the props to love making. Love is not a natural born impulse in him but something that is carefully cultivated through the creation of an ambiance.

That strain again, the music which he wants to hear again and again,so sweet that it will sicken his appetite for love and let it die. Here is a leisurely aristocrat who has nothing much to do except cultivate idle love through its several trappings. But he has a gift for metaphor ,which he uses in abundance to describe the state of being in love. A pretty image in which he likens love to the sea of a vastness that takes anything into it to make it of no worth, to obliterate its own shape and sink its form into its own formlessness.

“Methought she purged the air of pestilence,” like a whiff of fragrance, a kind of perfumed anti-septic that purges the air of pestilence. But that very moment he is turned into a hart , pursued by the hounds of his own desires. One of the idle pursuits of the leisured class of the Elizabethan times was hunting and the Count here ,instead of pursuing the hart with his hounds ,turns a hart himself pursued by the hounds of his desires.

The hunting imagery is often used in Shakespeare’s plays. Here , when used in the mouth of Orsino’s character it sounds so commonplace, especially coming on top of a profusion of similar other images used to describe the experience of love.


(The post also appears on the Shakespeare page)

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“Some trees” – by John Ashbery


These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Some comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Place in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

I like the title “some trees”,(not these trees,or the trees or trees) but “some trees”, in the sense they are some trees, not to be lightly spoken of. They are amazing,to say the least. Each joining a neighbor’s silence, while integrating in the general foliage of the wood. But still they are individual trees talking to the other trees, in the way they lean on each other,with a glint in their sunny eye.Their speech was a still performance.You and I will talk here, in a similar still performance.But the trees have something to say to us.

They tell us what we are.They tell us that their being there means something. After all they are some trees. They tell us more importantly that we may soon touch,love, explain. Their presence here tells that our talking will soon happen,our love,our explaining. Luckily we are not surrounded by a formal comeliness, a put on air of conviviality, a noisy atmosphere . We are here as far away from the world as we can make it. The trees provide a canvas filled with a chorus of smiles,against a winter morning’s quiet.

The place is in a puzzling light and seems to be moving. The way the tree’s shadows dance to the mild breeze. Our days put on such a reticence that these accents (the quietness of this place) seem their own defense.

The interesting things I have found in the poem are:

“some”, “something” (discussed earlier)

The auditory sense invoked through the poem:

A still performance

Silence already filled with noises : Read a blank canvas of silence filled with the sounds of smiles and there is nothing to fill now by way of communication between us.

The visual sense invoked

Place in a puzzling light,moving.

The puzzling light refers to the sunlight sieved through the tree branches as they gently wave in the breeze.It also may refer to the puzzling communication between us that is not filled with words.
we may touch,love,explain

Say nothing except what the trees say in their chorus of smiles or touch,love,explain.Touch leads to love and an atmosphere conducive to explaining one’s own actions to clear misunderstandings.

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