O Mother

O mother: you who are without an equal, who stood before all this silence, long ago in childhood. who took it upon yourself to say: don’t be afraid; i’m here. who in the night had the courage to be this silence for the child who was frightened, who was dying of fear. you strike a match, and already the noise is you. and you hold the lamp in front of you and say: i’m here; don’t be afraid. and you put it down, slowly, and there is no doubt: you are there, you are the light around the familiar, intimate things, which are there without afterthought, good and simple and sure. and when something moves restlessly in the wall, or creaks on the floor: you just smile, smile transparently against a bright background into the terrified face that looks at you, searching, as if you knew the secret of every half-sound, and everything were agreed and understood between you. does any power equal your power among the lords of the earth? look: kings lie and stare, and the teller of tales cannot distract them. though they lie in the blissful arms of their favorite mistress, horror creeps over them and makes them palsied and impotent. but you come and keep the monstrosity behind you and are entirely in front of it; not like a curtain that it can lift up here or there. no: as if you had caught up with it as soon as the child cried out for you. as if you had arrived far ahead of anything that might still happen, and had behind you only your hurrying-in, your eternal path, the flight of your love.

Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

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Poems

…poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. you ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. for poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences. for the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. you must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else—); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quite, retrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,—and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. you must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. but you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. and it is not yet enough to have memories. you must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. for the memories themselves are not important. only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

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Shape Necessitated by Content

Whenever ‘form’ is nowadays demanded, in society and in conversation, in literary expression, in traffic between states, what is involuntarily understood by it is a pleasing appearance, the antithesis of the true concept of form as shape necessitated by content, which has nothing to do with ‘pleasing’ or ‘displeasing’ precisely because it is necessary and not arbitrary.

Nietzsche

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God’s Music

But, Master, if some pure spirit with a virgin ear were to lie down beside your music: he would die of bliss; or he would become pregnant with infinity, and his fertilized brain would explode with so much birth.

Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

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The Essence of Religious Feeling

The essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit in with any reasoning, with any crimes and trespasses, or with any atheisms; there’s something else here that’s not that, and it will eternally be not that; there’s something in it that atheisms will eternally glance off, and they will eternally be talking not about that.

Dostoevsky, The Idiot

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And It’s a Very Good Thing, Literature

And it’s a very good thing, literature, a very good thing…a profound thing! A thing that strengthens people’s heart, instructs….Literature is a picture, that is in a certain way a picture and a mirror; the expression of passion, a kind of subtle criticism, an exhortation to edification and a document.

You perhaps would like to know how i occupy myself when i am not writing? I read. I read an awful lot, and reading has a strange effect on me. I will read through something I read a long time ago and it is as though I am wound up with new powers. I pay attention to everything, understand everything clearly, and draw from it the ability to create for myself.

Dostoevsky

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Man is a Shadow

In what a kind of uncertainty do we live, when a man rises from his bed in the morning, to be uncertain of his return to rest again: or when he lies down to sleep, whether ever he shall rise. Well do the spaniards in their language call man a shadow, for in truth he is no more, his body being so frail and brittle, and exposed to so many dangers, that nothing is more to be admired, than that it should usually subsist so long.

As gold is purified in the furnace, so is the life of a good man purged by adversity…and as adversity and misfortunes have been to some men a means of their promotion, so has prosperity been to others an occasion of their misery.

Cardan, Three Books of Consolation

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How Can He Be Happy That Never Felt Grief?

Among advantages which adversity has, this is not the least, that, a man’s misfortunate days once past, he lives the rest of his life with greater delight. Who can relish health, that has never been sick? Who knows the sweetness of his country, so well as he has been long abroad? Or who can take pleasure in riches but he that has been poor? As salt favors meat, so does past misery render our lives more pleasant.

Perhaps you will say i would have pleasure without pain: this is contrary to nature, for joy is continually attended by sorrow, glory with envy, wisdom is not gotten without labor, wealth is not obtained without care, children are kept with trouble, banqueting is attended by sickness, ease with poverty, power with envy, quiet with weariness. Everyman has something to complain of. Some are afflicted with poverty, others want children, this man is sick, that man wants a wife, and this man would be rid of his. But that which is most strange is, that to be happy and liable to no misfortune, is also a calamity.

How can he be happy that never felt grief. This is certain, that without adversity a man cannot live comfortably, nor take delight in mirth without some sorrow. And is it not a comfort in our calamity to have not only one man for a companion, but all mankind.

Truly the adversity of others, never made my misfortunes seem the less: but the unavoidableness of troubles, to which all naturally are subject, has much mitigated my private grieves. For who but a mad man will lament that which cannot be helped. A wise man considering the course of sublunary things, will expect any kind of mishap, and is prepared against the worst.

Cardan, Three Books of Consolation

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Rodin’s Portraits

Full of the living burden of his great knowledge, he looked into the faces of those about him like one who knows the future. This gives to his portraits their extraordinary clear definiteness, but also that prophetic greatness which, in the statues of Victor Hugo and of Balzac, rises to an indescribable perfection. To create a likeness meant for him to seek eternity in some given face, that part of eternity by which the face participated in the great life of eternal things. He made none which he did not lift a little from its place into the future; as we hold an object against the sky in order to see its form with greater clarity and simplicity. This is not what we call beautifying a thing, nor is it right to speak of giving it characteristic expression. It is more than that; it is separating of the permanent from the ephemeral, the passing of a judgment, the executing of justice.

Rilke

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