|The last poet|
are this, O Great One; proclaim that we could achieve this,
is too short for such praise. So, after all, we have not
failed to make use of these generous spaces, these
spaces of ours.
- RM Rilke, The Seventh Duino Elegy
* * *
No work takes more of my attention than Rilke's Duino Elegies. I re-read and gain a bit more of a foothold dozens of times a year. Sometimes I move from beginning to end. Other times it is just one elegy, but always I am drawn to these works and believe, by the sheerest of silences, I can hear the beating heart of God in the cadences and rhythms of these poems.
It is true. It is true. I waste my time rereading translations of German poetry - this German poetry - when there is actual work to be done. I have long since concluded that this IS my work.
Not everyone is meant to have an MBA.
* * *
Like you, like every last one of you motherfuckers who has ever lived, I am an artist. The collection of Epictetus' aphorisms is called The Art of Living. The art we are to create is our life - this one solitary ride we take on the merry-go-round. When we fuck it up, when we live disconnected from our central selves, always absorbing the judgments and desires of others, we make such shitty art.
But art does not get made in a vacuum. It is impulse and desire matched with experience, with ability, with the willingness to fail. No art, no life is fully formed on day one. The goal, my fucked fuckers, is to have it sussed out before the lights go out. It is in the doing that we are redeemed. Not in the worrying and cowering, but in the myriad attempts we make to create something out of the time we have, out of the time we've been given.
It occurs to me that so much of our anxiety about time, about having enough or running out, or whatever negative connotation we foist upon time has it all wrong. Time is not a punishment, but rather a gift: Here, asshole, go run and play. See what you can do. Don't follow someone else's rules. This is your time, your turn.
And what do we do with this time, this turn, this gift? If you are paying attention you make use of these generous spaces, these spaces of ours.
* * *
Later in the poem Rilke shows the Angelic host he is singing to how generous Life is to us humans, shows the angel our greatness, how high our aspiration rise:
But a tower was great, wasn't it? Oh Angel, it was-
even when placed beside you? Chartres was great -, and music
reached higher still and passed far beyond us. But even
a woman in love -, oh alone at night by her window . . .
didn't she reach your knee?
Man's greatest achievement is a woman in love. Brilliant.
Yes, yes, it is our ability to love that the angels are jealous of, and it is this desire we have to be found in another that creates all art, does all the work and soothes all our fears.
Some of us will live in garrets and others in mansions, some will use color, and others will use money, a few will use sound, a few others motion, but we all have the same challenge, the same gift in front of us - how to use it up before we lay it down; how to use this generous space - the space of your one life - and rise to the angel's knee.
Now quit your whining and get to it.