Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday afternoon reading #4: Rilke, which proved to have refreshingly little relevance to the world of marketing

The tops of the maples are actually starting to turn here in northern New England and so I felt the desire to get reacquainted with some autumnal lyrics, starting with Rilke’s famous Herbst Tag or Autumn Day. Here it is in Stephen Mitchell’s translation:

Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.
Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.
I was going to move onto Keats and Coleridge but once you start reading Rilke, it’s hard to stop. I flipped over to the Duino Elegies, which are quite a long poems, but the first one begins:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I would perish
in the embrace of his stronger existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure and are awed
because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Each single angel is terrifying.

Which made me want to quit me job. Luckily, I have a mortgage.

The one poem from which one could possibly dervie some marketing lessons is the equally famous Archaic Torso of Apollo. It is the only poem I've ever had the nerve to put on the beginning of a power point presentation (about conversion experiences.) The poem sets a standard for a visual work of art, to which, as marketers we can wistfully aspire: an inanimate object so powerful that it shocks the viewer into a need for self-transformation. If you wanted to be glib, you could say it's like an ancient Nike ad. But it's hard to be glib reading Rilke.

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 breast 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.
Don’t we all.

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