TITLE: Creation and the Beauty of Language AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 02, 2010 10:07 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I learned today that my colleague Mark Jacobson created a blog last spring, mostly as a commonplace book of quotes on which he was reflecting. While looking at his few posts, I came across this passage from Rainer Maria Rilke in his inaugural entry:
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.
There were a couple of times this week when I really needed to hear this, and reading it today was good fortune. It's also a great passage for computer programmers, who need never accept the grayness of their tools because they have the powers of a Creator. I have long been a fan of Rilke's imagery and have quoted him before. I remember reading my first Rilke poem, in my high school German IV course. Our wonderful teacher, Frau Griffith, had the heart of a poet and asked those of us who had survived into the fourth year to read as much original German literature as we could, in order that we might come to understand more fully what it means to be German. (She was a deeply emotional woman who had escaped Nazi Germany on a train in the dead of night, just ahead of the local police.) I came to love Rilke and to be mesmerized by Kafka, whose work I have read in translation many times since. His short fiction is often surprising. I do not remember just which Rilke poem we read first. I only remember that it showed me German could be beautiful. My German IV classmates and I were often teased by classmates who studied French and Spanish. They praised the fluidity of their languages and mocked the turgid prose of ours. We mocked them back for studying easier languages, but secretly we admitted that German was sounded and looked uglier. Rilke showed us that we were wrong, that German syllables could flow as mellifluously as any other. Revelation! Later Frau introduced us to the popular music of Udo Jürgens, and we were hooked. Recently, I ran across a reference to Goethe's "The Holy Longing". I tracked it down in English and immediately understood its appeal. But the translation feels so clunky... The original German has a rhythm that is hard to capture. Read:
Keine Ferne macht dich schwierig,
Kommst geflogen und gebannt,
Und zuletzt, des Lichts begierig,
Bist du Schmetterling verbrannt.
That's not quite Rilke to my ears, but it feels right. -----