line of the Duino Elegies while he was walking on the cliffs above the sea and heard a voice from the raging storm crying: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?”
Indeed Rilke is the subject of several Jungian studies. This very month (January 2010), the C.G. Jung Analytical Psychology Club in London will present a talk entitled “On Angel Imagery in Rilke‟s Poems”. Jungian analyst Murray Stein, in his book Transformation: Emergence of the Self2, sees the Duino Elegies as marking Rilke‟s own transformation and emergence, with the angel as a companion to that transformation. Stein says of Rilke that he lived the life of a Poet by transforming mundane objects into symbols - “he changes the mundane and inert into the transcendent and spiritual”. Other Jungian writers, such as Stephen Romanyshyn and James Hollis have found inspiration in Rilke.
But Rilke‟s poetry is difficult to understand. Help is needed – a way in. I have just discovered help in Stephanie Dowrick‟s newly published book In the Company of Rilke: Why a 20th-century Visionary Poet Speaks so Eloquently to 21st–century Readers Yearning for Inwardness, Beauty & Spiritual Connection3 . Author of books such as Intimacy and Solitude, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, and Choosing Happiness, an ordained Interfaith Minister who lives in Sydney, she has immersed herself thoroughly in Rilke while preparing her Doctoral thesis entitled Rainer Maria Rilke: Bearing Witness with the Writing & Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney.
On the subject of his language, she says that it was for Rilke “primarily a tool of experience and enquiry, a „probe‟ sent to the outer reaches of human imagination and experience and then beyond them” (p. 277). She demonstrates a readiness to meet Rilke on his own ground in what she calls “surrendered reading” (p. 15).
Dowrick says that the guiding question in her study of Rilke is the question posed by Heidegger (quoting the poet Hölderlin) in an essay on Rilke “What are poets for?” Heidegger mourned the fleeing of the gods – we are “destitute” of the gods - declaring: “To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world‟s night utters the holy.” (Dowrick, p. 138)
Quoting liberally from Rilke‟s letters and poetry, Dowrick draws out wonderfully the aspects of spiritual yearning and seeking in Rilke. She tells us of the experience of the soul as it connects with beauty; of beauty‟s shadow, which, she says, is loss; of “the transformations in perception and experience that only art can make possible, inextricably linked with transformations of the soul ...” (p. 221); of Rilke‟s unconventional views on God and his astonishing concept that “inside humans is where God learns.” (p. 245)
She brings forth for our understanding concepts such as living our lives in the presence of questions, which requires a capacity for “not knowing”, what the poet Keats called “negative capability” – the ability to be “in un- certainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.” (p. 16 and p. 49)
She gives special attention to a concept that Rilke calls “The Open” and which she says is essential to our thinking about him, “exploding as it does conventional notions of separation between living forms within the world, and between the worlds of the living and the dead” (p. 265). She asks “Is the Open, then, a vision of life in its ungraspable vastness, shedding ideas that close us in or down with false certainty...?” (p. 274)
It is difficult in this brief space to do justice to this book. Perhaps it is enough to say that Stephanie Dowrick‟s book does justice to Rilke. I warmly recommend her as a guide into the richness of his work.
Texas A & M University Press, 1998
Allen & Unwin, 2009