Mirrors and Awakenings (part 2)

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.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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