The mirror of future feeling: Rilke’s striking phrase, used in the last post, but what does it mean? The german has ‘Spiegel des Vorgefuhls’ ( mirror of presentiment, literally advance feeling). In the context of the poem which is about the survival and renewal of life under the earth in deep winter, I would say the phrase refers to memory, imagination, forgetfulness, all three at once, and it is through compression that it achieves a powerful effect. If we allow that imagination may be taken to represent the present as anticipation, or at least as the preparedness of living things, then the three together may be taken to be the past, present and future viewed synoptically as reflection. Also the heartbreaking, beautiful phrase which concludes the poem, ‘where the colour of flowers shakes off the old enchantment in our eyes’, suggests that forgetfulness is the pre-condition of rebirth, a brutal truth for all who grieve, and why Freud wrote of the difficulty and time needed for ‘grief work’.
Some of Rilke’s most memorable poems are about grief, and he particularly mentioned Sonnet II,13 to his Polish translator as being central to the whole sequence of Sonnets to Orpheus. One might go further, the phrase ‘Be dead for ever in Eurydice’ captures the task and achievement of Orpheus, ‘ to rise more strongly singing’, which is also the task for all of us, as we let go of those we have loved and lost, while at the same time hoping that something of that love has become part of our being. Here follows Sonnet to Orpheus II,13 in its entirety.
Be ahead of all leaving as though it were behind you like the winter which is now relenting. For among winters there is one which is so endless, that only by outwintering it does the heart survive. Be dead for ever in Eurydice and rise more strongly singing, more strongly praising, back in pure accord. Here in their faded company, in the unlit kingdom, be a shivering glass, carry death in your ringing. Be - and in the same breath know not-being, infinite ground of your recurring strength, that you inhabit fully this one time. To the blunted and stifled masses of teeming nature as well as to the spent, to the unthinkable sum, jubilantly add yourself, then destroy the score.