“I think of you at any time of the day and my worried thoughts accompany all your steps. The slightest breathe on your forehead is a kiss from my lips and each dream speaks to you with my voice. My love is like a coat wrapped around you to protect and warm you up.”
Rilke met Lou Andreas-Salomé in 1897. He was 22, she was 36. Their love story lasted until 1901 and turned into a friendship that only ended with Rilke’s death in 1926. The little book I’ve read is composed of letters coming from their correspondence. The first one dates back to 1897 and the last one was written a fortnight before he died.
The first letters are beautiful love letters. Once I wrote that I didn’t envy Albertine for being loved by the Narrator as he seemed complicated and difficult to live with. Nothing like that with Rilke. These letters are sunny despite the absence and how much he misses her. His love is a gift; it doesn’t claim anything else that what he already receives. These letters are full of acceptance, of loving Lou just the way she is. She loves him back, he’s happy. Their fierce passion isn’t a tortured one.
Your being has been the door that allowed me to reach fresh air for the first time.
In 1897, Rilke stopped signing his letters René (his firstname) and became Rainer. His meeting with Lou was his rebirth.
The following letters are more about him and his creating process. One of them, written in 1903, describes his life and sufferings in Paris. I recognized the raw material he will use in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Rilke suffers from acute sensitivity. He’s a sponge, he absorbs the outside world to such a point that it hurts him. He perceives the mood, the emotions of his environment. He has no filtering system and it hits him badly every time. He’s a disquiet man, disturbed by fears and anguish. What fascinates me is that despite his disquiet, he manages to describe his fears in a lucid way. He doesn’t complain although he somatizes a lot and has a poor health. In a way, he tries to tame his pain and at the same time cherishes it as he knows part of his work will come from it. For the reader, his fears sound real, painful but he doesn’t sound unbalanced.
When reading these letters, the reader witnesses his artistic quest. He admires Rodin for his work, his ability to materialize his inner mind into statues, into art. He chides himself for not being able to concentrate and work as much as he should. He gropes around, aware that he’s piling up ideas, sensations, characters, observations in his soul and in his mind. But he’s not able to reach them and turn them into art. Yet. It’s fascinating to read about his quest. It’s obviously painful but he doesn’t complain. He takes the pain, doesn’t wallow into it but probably sees it a step to creation. He’s also lucid about his failure as a husband and as a father. In French, we say être mal dans sa peau, literally, to be ill-at-ease in one’s skin to say to feel bad about oneself. Rilke was literally like that and his skin reacted to it.
In the last letters, he has found the inspiration and managed to let out the work he was sitting on. The joy when he writes the Elegies, the Sonnet to Orpheus is palpable. His health declines, he talks a lot more about physicians. He also thought about doing a psychoanalysis but preferred to keep his demons as part of his creating process. He’s a man who suffered from a poor health all his life and never rebelled against it, took it as the way life was for him and lived day by day.
All these years, Lou became his distant spine, his anchor in life. She immediately saw him as a gifted writer and he trusted her judgement. She believed in his talent, thought highly of his work and that gave him the strength and the confidence he needed. She was his confidant, his safe – she received a copy of his work –, his living diary. Would we have Rilke’s work without her? I’m not sure. These letters had the same effect on me than Letters to a Young Poet and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: a profound fondness for the man who wrote them, awe for his literary gift and sadness for him that it should come with so much pain. When I read Kakfa’s letters to Milena, I heard his pain but I never really sympathized with him. He sounded complicated and whimsical. I sympathized with Rilke, deeply. He was a man I would have loved to meet.
(source : http://bookaroundthecorner.wordpress.com)
”Lou Andreas-Salomé (born Louise von Salomé or Luíza Gustavovna Salomé,
1861 – 1937) was a Russian-born psychoanalyst and author.
Andreas-Salomé was a novelist, essayist and psychoanalyst, as well as an early disciple (and lover) of Freud and a close friend of Nietzsche’s (who once called her “the smartest person I ever knew”). It was Andreas-Salomé who inspired Rilke to change his first name from “René” to “Rainer.”
February 11, 1922, Switzerland
Lou, dear Lou, so now:
At this moment, this, Saturday, the eleventh of February, at 6, I am laying aside my pen after the last completed Elegy, the tenth. The one (even then it was destined to become the last) to the beginning already written in Duino: “Someday, emerging at last from this terrifying vision/may I burst into jubilant praise to assenting angels…” As much as there was of it I read to you, but only just the first twelve lines have remained, all the rest is new and: yes, very, very, very glorious!—Think! I have been allowed to survive up to this. Through everything. Miracle. Grace.—All in a few days. It was a hurricane, as at Duino that time: all that was fiber, fabric in me, framework, cracked and bent. Eating was not to be thought of.
And imagine, something more, in another context, just previously (in the “Sonnets to Orpheus”, twenty-five sonnets, written, suddenly, in the fore-storm, as a memorial for Vera Knoop) I wrote, made, the horse, you know, the free happy white horse with the hobble on its foot that once, at the approach of evening, came galloping toward us on a Volga meadow—:
I made him as an “ex voto” for Orpheus!—What is time?—When is present? Across so many years he sprang, with his utter happiness, into my wide-open feeling.
So it was, one after the other.
Now I know myself again. It really had been like a mutilation of my heart that the Elegies were not—here.
They are, they are.
I went out and stroked, as if it were a great old beast, the little Muzot that had sheltered all this for me, that had, at last, vouchsafed it to me.
That is why I did not write in answer to your letter, because all the time in these weeks, without knowing toward what, I was keeping silent toward this, with heart taken farther and farther inward. And now, today, dear Lou, only this. You had to learn of it at once. And your husband too. And Baba—, and the whole house even down into the good old sandals!
Your old Rainer
P.S. Dear Lou, my little pages, these two, breathlessly written last night couldn’t go off, registered, today (Sunday), so I took advantage of the time to copy off for you three of the completed Elegies (the sixth, eighth and tenth). The other three I shall then write in the course of days, and send them soon. To me it will be so good when you have them. And besides it puts my mind at ease if they exist somewhere else too, outside, in accurate copies, safely preserved.
Rilke’s poem: “To Lou Andreas-Salomé ”
In a letter dated May 13, 1897, at the very onset of the relationship, Rilke writes:
You see, gracious lady, through the unsparing severity, through the uncompromising strength of your words, I felt that my own work was receiving a blessing, a sanction. I was like someone for whom great dreams, with all their good and evil, were coming true; for your essay was to my poems as reality is to a dream, as fulfillment is to a desire.[…]
I always feel: when one person is indebted to another for something very special, that indebtedness should remain a secret between just the two of them.
On May 31 and June 1, 1897, Rilke and Salomé took a two-day trip to a small village south of Munich and it was during that trip that the two first became lovers. In a letter dated June 3rd, Rilke writes:
Songs of longing!And they will resound in my letters, just as they always have, sometimes loudly and sometimes secretly so that you alone can hear them… But they will also be different — different from how they used to be, these songs. For I have turned and found longing at my side, and I have looked into her eyes, and now she leads me with a steady hand.
In a lengthy letter dated July 6, 1898:
Now I come to you full of future. And from habit we begin to live our past.
Rilke and Andreas-Salomé: A Love Story in Letters is remarkably rich and dimensional in its entirety, each of the 200 letters revealing a different facet of Rilke’s exceptional heart and mind, and of the universal commonalities of love itself.
Neue Gedichte (New Poems) (1907)
- Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß
sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
Ach gerne möchte ich sie bei irgendetwas
Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
nicht weiterschwingt, wenn diene Tiefen schwingen.
Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
die aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
O süßes Lied.
- How shall I hold on to my soul, so that
it does not touch yours? How shall I lift
it gently up over you on to other things?
I would so very much like to tuck it away
among long lost objects in the dark,
in some quiet, unknown place, somewhere
which remains motionless when your depths resound.
And yet everything which touches us, you and me,
takes us together like a single bow,
drawing out from two strings but one voice.
On which instrument are we strung?
And which violinist holds us in his hand?
O sweetest of songs.
- How shall I hold on to my soul, so that