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Who, if I Cried

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic orders?"
(first line of Rilke's Duino Elegies, found in a notebook left on a park bench)


I know what you're thinking: "Is this going to be one of those hokey stories that pretends to be someone else's lost manuscript?" -- but you're mistaken. It is true, however, that the notebook ploy is totally bogus. There never was such a notebook. 

In reality, the words just appeared in a dream, in one of those near-waking moments that seem incredibly significant, but fade away by the time the dreamer climbs into the shower. The words floated down to me, just as they had to Rilke, as he walked along the beach, below Duino Castle. Perhaps the poet really believed that they came from some terrible angel… but me?

Not a chance. 

I know they had just been drifting around in my subconscious for the past forty-odd years, waiting to serve some new purpose. But what if there had been a lost notebook on that hypothetical bench? What if it had contained nothing except that single line of poetry? What could we make of it?

First, there's an excellent chance that our would-be diarist was a young man. The line reeks of the kind of yearning that only the young can carry off with any measure of believability. On the other hand, the line could have been left by another poet -- but poets, like paleontologists, are just adults who never out-grew their youthful love of poetry (or dinosaurs, which amounts to the same thing). We all wrote poetry at some point in our lives (how else would we have known that we were really suffering?). However, like so many other passions, the urge to commit one's longings to paper tends to fade over time. Whether the longings themselves fade, or simply lose their brutal newness, is another issue, one perhaps better left for some other time.

What about that single journal entry? Why might someone have chosen that particular quote… and nothing else? Was it meant to be the beginning of something larger, something so important to the journalist that he could not bear to lose it? And yet, lose it he certainly did. Was it something the journalist was barely "still able to bear," even though "it calmly disdains to destroy" him? And how did he intend to answer Rilke's existential question? Was it the beginning of a new poem? A novel? A confession of terrible angst-driven obsession? 

Perhaps it was nothing more than a mnemonic device… but of what was it intended to remind the poor suffering soul? Was the mere act of writing it down sufficient to burn the reminder into the writer's consciousness -- and that's why the notebook was left behind?

What if something else happened to cause the abandonment of the notebook? Did the mistress of the writer's distress suddenly appear (for that matter, are we justified in assuming that such a mistress was ever involved)? Did she say, or do, something that made the notebook's lone entry superfluous? 

If so, perhaps the notebook wasn't lost at all. Perhaps it was abandoned -- an inconsequential bit of jetsam, tossed over the side just as the diarist was, himself, swept away.

2 Comments:

Blogger ephemeralist said...

Gary, Nice post -- and I think you should leave such a notebook with such a line, somewhere. . .

April 12, 2012 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

Thanks!

It could be a sort of literary Candid Camera -- it'd be interesting to see how many people were curious enough to open it, recognized the quote, & were intrigued by it.

April 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM  

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