We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved beast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Rainer Maria Rilke
* * *
I have long loved this poem. And many times I've wanted to post it for Poetry Wednesday, but was daunted by the enormity of the last line: you must change your life. It's intimidating to throw together a little blog post about changing my life, particularly following such a powerfully beautiful poem. And as a mother of young children, just getting enough sleep seems like a sufficient goal.
And yet I come back to this poem over and over, perhaps because it sums up my understanding of the relationship between beauty and truth. How real beauty--including the artistic creation of it--can peel away the static of our lives and put us more in touch with who we really are. It can make us vulnerable, wide-eyed and silent. At best we become a medium though which the mysterious beauty of world in which we live shines.
I would love to write more about this subject, but I fear if I try I will never post this poem. Instead I want to post something I read in this month's issue of the Sun Magazine. It comes from the Reader's Write section, which this month was about singing. The description of Murad reminds me of the torso in Rilke's poem above:
I met Murad in the summer of 2010, in Svaneti, a region of the Republic of Georgia. He and the other singers in the choir Ensemble Riho lived in villages at the base of the Caucasus Mountains, miles of snowcapped peaks that separated them from Russia.
I hardly ever spoke directly to Murad, but he conveyed a feeling, a way of existing in the world. Even if he had tried to explain his music to me, I wouldn’t have understood; we didn’t speak each other’s language.
Foreigners who had come before us had given Murad a nickname: the “Rock Splitter,” for the volume of his singing. I expected a large, hairy-chested man, but he was slight and nimble, with ruddy cheeks and silvery eyes. Between recording takes at our makeshift studio, he would stare pensively into the distance. A farmer, he spent his days under the sun, and I got the sense that he was unaccustomed to being inside.
When Murad opened his mouth to sing, his neck veins bulged, and his stomach grew taut. His voice was loud but also remarkably graceful. Something other than sheer volume gave his music its strength. After several days of watching him and his fellow choir members sing thousand-year-old chants and centuries-old tales of war and survival, I decided Murad’s power lay in his ability to embody and transmit history. He was not singing about himself; he was transforming his body into a vessel for the music, for the past, for the many people who had sung before him. That widening of the neck, those big breaths, that steady stream of immense sound were all a negation of the self.
At its best, singing is a selfless act.
Providence, Rhode Island