Mirros: no one yet has knowingly said what you must be in your depths. You like the airy holes in sieves make up the intervals in time. You, the prodigals of empty halls - when twilight comes, wide as the woods... then the chandelier becomes an antlered stag at bay beyond your pristine surfaces. Sometimes you are full of pictures. A few have blazed right into you - while others you've sent shyly past. But the loveliest of all will linger - until the freed Narcissus has found his way into her doubting cheeks over there in you.
Rilke – Sonnets to Orpheus II,3. This poem analyses a sequence of events with uncanny precision. The girl looks attentively at her reflection, sees it as beautiful, and this causes a change in the way she feels about herself which in turn alters her appearance. There is then a futher adjustment in her self-regard.
The empty holes in sieves exist only by virtue of what lies outside them, and the same is true of the reflection in the mirror. Nevertheless the poem shows that there is a genuine dynamic between the girl and her image, which mimics and externalises the movements of introspection. Rilke uses the word Zwischenräume (intervals) in this poem and again in II,26 where I translate it as ‘breaches’ and where it refers to discontinuities in space. These two poems provide an extraordinary description of the self, which has bees arrived at not by analytical thought but through Rilke’s hyperaesthesia. I will return to this in a future blog. To anticipate, it throws light on the life long angst he suffered from being unable to reconcile two experiences, his sense that living things are inter-connected and the abysses of unique experience which make intimacy with others so difficult.