I have Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God to hand. It’s been on my shelf for a few years now. What I want to write about is not it, particularly, but I’ll do that quickly and move on.
Much interesting about Rilke’s attitude to God at this period. In paraphrase: – You are not where or what I have thought you to be. I create you. You need me as much as I need you. And oh, what will you do when I am gone? You are my heir, my protégé.
He writes, and this strikes one as signature:
I feel it now: there’s power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.
I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
my looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.
Who knows what would have happened if I had read this at the right time? Which would have been, would it not, the time I bought it. But I almost never (that bad fairy at my christening) buy a book and read it. The burst of light and eagerness in which I buy, and that in which I read, always seem far removed from each in other in color, in quality, in intensity. With my books I have to squint hard – very hard, sometimes – to remember that first light, how first acquisition felt. So, puzzling over the presence of Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God in my bookcase, I have thought a bit, squinted a bit, and reconstructed the book trail, the thought/feel trail, that led me to it. As follows:
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.
Story of a high-powered female executive in the very early 20th century who throws it all in to join a Benedictine monastery, she becomes a Benedictine nun. This is where I first focused on the beauty of the Divine Office, in concept and execution, and on the Liturgy of the Hours, the eight of them: -Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.
Then China Court also by Rumer Godden.
A story about a story about a story of a strained, impoverished country house and a fabulously valuable Book of Hours.
Then (or before, or during?) – the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, that of a sudden sprang out of worn mumbo-jumbo meaningless back-groundness into clean bristling gleaming language. Suddenly, just like that.
Followed by The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark.
About many things, including and especially that language. The steadying, rallying bone-clean language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
And so to Rilke.
But, once again, the light in which I bought is not the light in which I read. I read it as rather thin, now, and disappointing. Its appeal very intellectual. One is constantly presented with broad literal (if that is not a contradiction in terms) abstractions – love, blindness, peace, wretchedness, loneliness, silence. As a reader you are asked to do a great deal of filling-in (fill in lonely, loving, wretched sensation here), but not in a bracing challenging way, just in wearying draining way, at the end of the day.
Much spiritual shorthand, requiring the sort of brainwork that would be (one can easily tell) easier and more joyful and much more resonant were one in the proper spiritual place.
Which one isn’t at the moment, but, oh well.
Update: Thinking about it and realizing that St. John of the Cross and On A Dark Night should be in there too, somewhere. George Herbert and Henry Vaughan too, probably, if one were going to be properly accurate. I haven’t ever tried to map a book trail before. Better luck next time.