Monthly Archives: October 2007

A long intimacy

Prose should be a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears out of the stone.

— Henry Green

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The vast night

Often I gazed at you in wonder: stood at the window begun
the day before, stood and gazed at you in wonder. As yet
the new city seemed forbidden to me, and the strange
unpersuadable landscape darkened as though
I didn’t exist. Even the nearest Things
didn’t care whether I understood them. The street
thrust itself up to the lamppost: I saw it was foreign.
Over there–a room, feelable, clear in the lamplight–,
I already took part; they noticed, and closed the shutters.
Stood. Then a child began crying. I knew what the mothers
all around, in the houses, were capable of–, and knew
the inconsolable origins of all tears.
Or a woman’s voice sang and reached a little beyond
expectation, or downstairs an old man let out
a cough that was full of reproach, as though his body were right
and the gentler world mistaken. And then the hour
struck–, but I counted too late, it tumbled on past me.–
Like a new boy at school, who is finally allowed to join in,
but he can’t reach the ball, is helpless at all the games
the others pursue with such ease, and he stands there staring
into the distance,–where–?: I stood there and suddenly
grasped that it was you: you were playing with me, grown-up
Night, and I gazed at you in wonder. Where the towers
were raging, where with averted fate
a city surrounded me, and indecipherable mountains
camped against me, and strangeness, in narrowing circles,
prowled around my randomly flickering emotions–:
it was then that in all your magnificence
you were not ashamed to know me. Your breath moved tenderly
over my face. And, spread across solemn distances,
your smile entered my heart.

— Rilke (trans. S. Mitchell)

Better than ourselves

At bottom we are better than ourselves, since we abhor our misdeeds.

— Strindberg

Love

My grandmother used to tell us a story about a mountain of loadstone. When any vessels came near it, they were instantly deprived of their ironwork; the nails flew to the mountain, and the unhappy crew perished amidst the disjointed planks.

— Goethe, Young Werther

Greater and greater things

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.

— Rilke

Like a refugee

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
there is no drum
Every heart to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’