Archive | Oct, 2015

How Rilke Taught me to Find Beauty in Everyday Life

6 Oct

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the library that changed my perspective on some things, and pulled me out of sadness and restlessness that had been torturing me for weeks. The book I’m talking about is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, first published three years after Rilke’s death, in 1929 in Berlin, by a ‘young poet’ Franz Xaver Kappus who corresponded with Rilke for six years (1902-1908). Kappus and Rilke never met in person, but instead opened their souls through the letters.

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha1900 The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) – Alphonse Mucha

Rilke’s letters are distinguished by a beautiful and inspirational style that reveals the rich inner world of this poetic genius, his thoughts and remarks, his attitudes towards world, people, art and artists. His letters are a place where the real life and art meet, because to Rilke writing poetry was a path towards self-realization. These ten letters contain Rilke’s opinions not only of art and poetry, but also of life itself, the importance of childhood as the wellspring of inspiration, then his thoughts about love and passion, earnestness, responsibilities of husband and wife, friendships and kindness, as well as his opinions of death and religion. As a collection of letters, rather than a fictional novel, this book appears so intimate and while reading it I felt, just like any other reader, that they were directed to me, like a letter from a far away friend I occasionally long for…

1900. Waterlily, a portrait of Barney's cousin Ellen Goin, was one of the illustrations for Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes.(Waterlily, a portrait of Barney’s cousin Ellen Goin, was one of the illustrations for Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes, 1900)

”If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that
you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

I thought a lot about this quote, and it helped me because I’m a person that’s very unsatisfied with everyday life, with the banalities, neighbours, same street and houses… I know quite well what provincial claustrophobia means. Any other place or time seems better to me. Rilke’s words made me ashamed. So, in search of beauty in everyday life, I sat on the balcony and observed. Rain was falling gently. The road was getting more and more wet. One neighbour left his laundry outdoors. Day was very peaceful and silent. Gardens were sleepy, and apple trees were dreaming. Distant laugh through the morning fog. Last marigolds smiled at me from their flowerpots, and occasionally birds graced the sky and then quickly flew away. It was cold and it started pouring but I found Beauty, right in front of me, it was here all along, the problem was in me: I was not poet enough to call forth the richness of my daily life.

Do you see beauty in your daily life?

Caspar David Friedrich – A Vision of Eternity

2 Oct

”So driven onward to new shores forever,
Into the night eternal swept away,
Upon the sea of time can we not ever
Drop anchor for one day?

O Lake! Scarce has a single year coursed past.
To waves that she was meant to see again,
I come alone to sit upon this stone
You saw her sit on then. (…)

Pause in your trek O Time! Pause in your flight,
Favorable hours, and stay!
Let us enjoy the transient delight
That fills our fairest day.

Let’s love, then! Love, and feel while feel we can
The moment on its run.
There is no shore of Time, no port of Man.
It flows, and we go on…

(The Lake – Alphonse de Lamartine, translated by A.Z.Foreman)

1822. Moonrise over the Sea - Caspar David FriedrichMoonrise over the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

Caspar David Friedrich, although a famous German painter of Romanticism today, was pretty much neglected as an artist until the painters of Symbolism discovered the connection between his paintings and their own ideas. Friedrich’s paintings reflect the mood of Romantic poetry of his times, which is also the mood of Schubert’s music, and some unjustly criticised his art as being to literary. His painting above Moonrise over the Sea, perhaps his most famous work, is a typical Friedrich’s landscape: dreamy but emotionally charged, it shows the sea without the line of horizon which leaves the impression of something infinite.

As usual, we don’t see the faces of his characters, two women and a man in this case, contemplating on a desolate beach, admiring the moonrise perhaps. The colours are exquisite, as I’ve seen the painting in Berlin – now I can die happily. While the stones and the shore in the foreground may seem repulsive in their dark brownness, the sea and the sky are absolutely stunning; lavender shades softly reveal the golden setting sun, then the boats sailing on that magical blueness of the sea… Perhaps the solid brown rocks symbolise stability of his family life, the merging sea and skyline freedom, and the setting sun lost hopes and a feeling of helplessness against transience.

A hint of mystery and infinite is present in this painting as well, some interpret his paintings as portrait of human alienation and solitude. Namely, Caspar was born and grew up in Greifswald, a university town and a seaport on Baltic coast. He remained closely connected to the town even as an adult, and most likely admired the sea himself, for he did say ‘I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature.‘ However, he had experienced a several traumas in his childhood which may had left him with a bleak and melancholic view on life; deaths of people close to him: his mother and sister had died when he was very young, and at thirteen he witnessed his brother drowning while ice-skating.

As I’ve already said, Friedrich’s paintings have often been perceived as highly poetic and connecting them to poetry then seems quite right, don’t you think? Well, as a fan of poetry of Romanticism, I’ve noticed how longer gazing at this painting reminds me of Alphonse de Lamartine’s poem The Lake. The story behind that poem is very sad, but also a material for a novel. In 1816 Lamartine met a young girl by the lake Bourget. The following year he returned to the lake, expecting to see her again, but she wasn’t there. At first he thought that she had stood him up, only to find out later that she had taken ill and died… Still, to him she remained a symbol of platonic, unearthly love.

echo and the bunnymen heaven up hereEcho and the Bunnymen ‘Heaven up Here’, 1981

Art always reinterprets itself and I see a connection between Caspar David Friedrich’s wistful and dreamy, yet lonely landscapes with the cover of the album Heaven up Here by the Echo and the Bunnymen, a great post-punk band from Liverpool. I’ll quote Wikipedia: ‘The photograph used on the front and back cover of the album was taken by photographer Brian Griffin. The picture shows the band on a wet beach in the south of Wales; there are dark clouds in the sky and the sun is low on the horizon causing the band to be silhouetted. The original album’s cover art was designed by Martyn Atkins. Reynolds said that the band’s manager Drummond saw them as representing “cold, dampness, darkness“.‘ I fully recommend the album by the way, as it is perfect for Autumn, the melodies remind me of exactly of Friedrich’s damp and solitary landscapes, but rich in colours, and atmospheric just like songs on Heaven up Here (1981). Song Over the Wall is the one I’ve listened to the most, so I recommend you to check it out if you like.