Joy is Madness

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Poems to NightRainer Maria Rilke 5/5
Travelling the world: Czechia

Thanks to NetGalley and Pushkin Press for the ARC.
Expected publication date: 02 March 2021

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875. He attended university in Prague and in Munich, switching majors from art history, literature and philosophy to political science, law and Darwinian theory. He published his first collection of poems in 1894. He suffered from a wonderful illness called “Fernweh” – he loved travelling. He crisscrossed the old world – from Germany to Russia and then to Spain, and from Italy to Egypt. The Great war meant that he had to join the war, and he did that as a clerk in the war archives in Vienna. During war, in 1916, Rilke gave a notebook of his poems revolving around night to his friend Rudolf Kassner. Rilke died of leukaemia in 1927, refusing all treatment and wanting to die “his own death.”

The collection “Poems to Night” offers all 22 poems from the notebook given to Kassner, but also includes sketches for poems and other completed poems with the same topic – the night.

Rilke here offers a collection of morsels for the soul. He doesn’t bother the reader with long verses, with complicated rhymes, with washed out epithets. He just gives the reader an insight into the connection a person has with their constant companion.

We have all felt the emotions he describes here, but, not being poets, we were unable to put them into words. Rilke then serves as a translator for those indescribable feelings.

He talks about love and our constant search for that something that keeps slipping from our grasp. We carry our thoughts and yearnings with us and we look for someone to offer them to, but sadly we carry them  

…to the stranger, who misunderstood us,
alas to the other, whom we never found…

But even when we are feeling down and defeated, the night brings us recuperation, it sooths us and makes us stronger

When through the olive trees’ pale separation
the night made me stronger with stars…

We want to be seen and in the night, it seems like millions of stars are looking down on us, seeing us, “surveying us.” The night gives us courage to face being seen.

This whole collection of poems is the kind of book one should keep on one’s nightstand and turn to when the traffic din is down and all you can see through your window are the moon and the stars.

A wonderful book, a wonderful poet.

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