A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poem of the Day: Rainer Maria Rilke

from Sonnets to Orpheus 

O dieses ist das Tier, das es nicht giebt. 
     O this is the animal that does not exist.
Sie wußtens nicht und habens jeden Falls 
     But they didn't know that, and, in any case, 
-- sein Wandeln, seine Haltung, seinen Hals, 
     they loved it -- loved its gait, its stance, 
bis in des stillen Blickes Licht -- geliebt. 
     its neck, loved the light in its quiet gaze. 

Zwar war es nicht. Doch weil sie's liebten, ward 
    It never was. But since they loved it,  
ein reines Tier. Sie ließen immer Raum. 
     a pure animal became. They always left space. 
Und in dem Raume, klar und ausgespart, 
     And in that space, unoccupied and bright, 
erhob es leicht sein Haupt und brauchte kaum 
     it calmly raised its head and scarcely needed 

zu sein. Sie nährten es mit keinem Korn, 
     to be. They fed it not with grain, --  
nur immer mit der Möglichkeit, es sei. 
    only with the promise of its being. 
Und die gab solche Stärke an das Tier, 
    And this gave the animal such power, 

daß es aus sich ein Stirnhorn trieb. Ein Horn. 
     that a horn sprouted from its brow. One horn. 
Zu einer Jungfrau kam es weiß herbei -- 
    White, it strode up to a virgin -- and was
und war im Silber-Spiegel und in ihr. 
      in the mirror's silver and in her.
--Rainer Maria Rilke (translation by Edward Snow)
The Sonnets to Orpheus were written partly in response to the death of a 19-year-old young woman, a friend of his daughter's. Their central theme is the imagination's ability to bring things into being -- the power of art to create and transcend. In this case, it's an animal that never was: the unicorn. Unicorns have become so associated with kitsch, the bedroom decor of pre-teen girls, that they've lost much of their magic, and it takes a wizard-poet like Rilke to bring it back. Edward Snow's letter-perfect translation, though it loses the rhymes that knit together the original poem, has its own magic.       

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