Shift in mood regarding divine transcendence in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies in light of the first and tenth elegy

Divine transcendence refers to the notion of overcoming the physical limitation and soaring & going closer to the divine angelic order in order to experience the ultimate peace and happiness. Rainer Maria Rilke, in his famous Duino Elegies, a collection of ten elegies, comprehensively deals with the notion and demonstrates the ways of attaining that divine transcendence or in Buddhism, which is called Nirvana. If the readers consider the first and tenth elegies, then they can be able to experience a shift in tone that is, Rilke in his first elegy, suggests that in order to achieve the Nirvana, one needs to soar and soar beyond the physical limit and he shows three models who can be able to transcend and that very tone changes in the tenth elegy which is about coming back to earth and by minutely experiencing the elements one has around him or her in order to be divinely happy and to achieve the touch of divinity.

How Does Naoko’s Childhood Fantasy Relate to the Shift in Mood Regarding Divine Transcendence in Rilke’s Duino Elegies?

Naoko’s childhood trauma through fantasy plays a significant role in understanding the shift in mood regarding divine transcendence in Rilke’s Duino Elegies. It reflects the transformative power of imagination, where personal experiences are reimagined into a realm of higher meaning and spirituality. This motif highlights the human longing for transcendence and the search for solace in a tumultuous world, mirroring the themes explored in Rilke’s poetic masterpiece.

Rilke and late 18th, 19th & 20th Century

Rilke was born in Bohemia, the capital of Prague, and during that time, the Czech Republic was a part of Austria. It was basically the pre-Soviet period in which scientific transformations took place.

The late 18th Century and the 19th Century were very much significant as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and their concepts were there. Consequently, there emerged a new upheaval. Enlightenment philosophy was becoming dysfunctional, and Rilke was born within that very upheaval period.

The first decade of the 20th Century is the period also informed by the enlightenment philosophy, which is about scientific reasoning. Then at that time, several significant events occurred, for instance, Einstein’s theory of relativity emerges, there was World War I, the Bolshevik war, and so on. Also, the enlightenment philosophy got shattered, and a sort of dilemma and discontentment regarding existence emerge in the ambiance. Rilke was also a product and a victim of this dilemma and discontentment. So he and the writers of that time, in a sense, were suffering from the ontological crisis and were seeking liberty. Rilke’s concept of liberty is different from the French Revolution’s concept of liberty. The liberty that the French revolution sings about was regarding liberty from the suppression and oppression of the Louis XXIV regime, whereas the idea of liberty that Rilke nurtures is about achieving perfection to get closer to the idealistic level. So in Rilke’s case, it went beyond the material level and was going towards the metaphysical level, which according to Rilke, was only possible through language, and that has to be the poetic language.

Rilke was informed, especially in two religions, Christianity and Islam. He possessed a wide knowledge regarding the scriptures as well. So, as he gleaned intensive knowledge regarding the concept of an angel, he encapsulated the very notion of an angel in his elegies but not from a religious point of view but from a very secular perspective. It can be compared with the notion of Muse, which is considered to be the source of inspiration. In Muse, there lies a supernatural or superhuman aspect. Likewise, the concept of an angel is also somehow anthropomorphic. The notion of perfection and incorporeal matter are there in the concept of an angel. It cannot be touched, but it has got its own perfection, and it never deteriorates.

Rilke basically was trying to negotiate with the chaotic world order with this concept related to metaphysics. He was suffering from both existential and ontological crisis, and so he needed some solitariness, and that is why he offered the solitariness in his Duino Elegies. He needed to figure out a way to emancipate himself from that ontological crisis and how to negotiate with the crisis of death. The continuous consciousness about death imprisoned one’s potentials as he/she continuously suffers from the spell of fear.

According to Rilke, it is an obstacle towards the divine transcendence. So, Duino Elegies is a series of speculations about death, about the ontological crisis, about the way towards transcendence, and about the way towards experiencing true happiness.

The First Elegy

Rilke was always conscious about the unfulfillment of perfection, as it is indeed impossible. Basically, the first elegy talks about the problems of transcendence. Rilke says in his first elegy,

Because beauty’s nothing
But the start of terror we can hardly bear,
And we adore it because of the serene scorn
It could kill us.

Angelic beauty is unbearably dazzling and beautiful that it is not physically possible to stand in front of it. According to theology, direct communication with angels cannot be created, and so the angelic communication is impossible physically. So, when one tries to soar towards the angel, he/she basically is trying to cross the physical border and enters into something metaphysical. In that elegy, Rilke creates a tripartite model capable of achieving such divine transcendence and reaching closer to the divine perfection. So, actually, he offers a new level of consciousness, which is somehow angelic and can be called super consciousness and also a new level of perfection. The first model is the unrequited lover whose love is not responded as according to Rilke, there has to be lack and loss, and if love is reciprocated, then there will not be any lack and loss. So, Rilke’s version of love does not conform to the conventional pleasure principle where love is holy and is connected to pleasure and completion. So, he is, in a sense, like Jacque Lacan. It is the transcendental idea of love. Rilke says

We adore it because of the serene scorn
It could kill us with. Every angels terrifying.

So, people adore it because they cannot attain it. Similarly, in the case of love as well, people are love-stricken, which is something they can completely fulfill. That is why Rilke is saying that within the unrequited lovers, the very possibility exists that they can be able to transcend as it is unrequited and he/she has got the capability to go beyond that. Rilke mentions the poet Gaspara Stampa, an Italian poet who wrote a lot of sonnets. She used to love a person who never responded to her love. Her lover does not exist anymore, but she still exists through her poetry and poetic language. What Rilke is trying to say is to love the concept of love without expecting anything, and that pain will be considered as one step forward towards the attainment of divine transcendence.

The second model that Rilke creates is the children who die very young. The main obstacle to achieving transcendence is basically the self-consciousness about death. The idea of death hampers people’s existence. But, the children who die young are not basically aware of the notion of death. They live at the level of innocence. They do not even know what the world is all about. Pain, death, self-annihilation, trauma, etc. do not exist within the children’s psyche. So in them, the self-conscious notion about death is absent, and if they die at that period, then there is a possibility for them to transcend and reach very close to the angelic order.

The third model is the hero. Rilke says that death can be a way to Nirvana or emancipation. And hero can go beyond self-interest and sacrifice his own life for the universe. Through this, heroes are transcending the self-consciousness level and can be able to make a correspondence between the divinity and humanity. When the hero sacrifices himself, everyone keeps him in their minds and reminisces him.

So, in the first elegy, one of the significant aspects is the difficulty of transcendence, and Rilke provides s tripartite model who can actually be able to attain the divine transcendence by overcoming the problems.

In the tenth elegy, readers can experience a transformation in Rilke’s tone regarding the divine transcendence. The tenth elegy refers to the falling of the individual back to earth. Perhaps it can be considered as an epiphany of Rilke as he figures out other possible ways to attain the Nirvana. One of those ways can be the poetic language i.e., music, art, painting, and so forth. So it refers to the aesthetics. Singing songs, paintings, composing poetry, etc. which can be the possible ways of attaining the divine transcendence. So, from a complete spiritual arena, Rilke enters into the material world for gaining the Nirvana. So, Rilke in his first elegy was talking about soaring above and transgressing the physical limit of the human being, and now the tenth elegy, his tone completely changes, and there the readers can find some proposals of negotiations, of compromise between pains; sufferings and the possible ways to handle them. So, Rilke was trying to demonstrate an ultimate solution, and that is why the tenth elegy can be considered as a synthesis of the progression of his ideas.

The Tenth Elegy

In the tenth elegy, there is some sort of transformative ideas. A revision of the notion of pain, of sufferings, and also denying the fact that sufferings are permanent, and believing in the temporality of sufferings. He is also inviting the endurance of pain as well.

And the how dear
You’ll be to me, you nights of anguish.
Sisters of despair, why didn’t I kneel lower
To receive you, surrender myself more loosely
Into your flowing hair.

So, it is a kind of reawaking the individual and turning these enemies into kin. He suggests everyone to invite and to accept their life. He refers to the individuals for enduring patience to wait for the future and wait for something better, and he assures the individuals that something good will emerge.

Oh, but just outside, behind
The last billboards plastered with posters of “Deathless”

Here the term “deathless” is significant in conceptualizing Rilke’s idea about transcendence. Deathlessness is about the soul. Perhaps he is trying to encapsulate divinity within the material gains that people look for to be happy. This is how he is coming back to the reality, to the earth. There is something else through which we can also extract the divine inspiration and that something else is the very material aspects like,

Children are playing, to one side lovers are holding each other,
Earnest in the thinning grass, and dogs are doing nature’s bidding.

These are the divinity, and one does not really need to go beyond these, but one has to extract divine inspiration from these simple mundane worldly happenings around him.

The young man walks further on. May be he is in love with a young
Lament… he follows her into the fields. 
……………………………………………………She’s only a Lament.

Here he personifies “Lamentation” with a woman and follows her. So, it is a kind of journey towards eternity, towards the unknown. This lamentation can lead us to a kind of divine transcendence.

A subtle change in mood is there as Rilke from lamentation is now proceeding towards the source of joy. So there is an end of those lamentations. The holy joy emerges at the end of this, and that joy is compared with the fountain at the bottom of a mountain. He mentions catkins, a kind of plant which is hanging and the image of rain falling on the 

Catkins hanging from the empty hazels, or maybe mean
He rain falling on the dark earth in early spring.

seeding ground. It refers to the production, to the growth, to sprouting and new life. So, this is a transformation of the soul to find or to be transformed into a new life. So, a sort of resurrection is there.

So, a huge shift in Rilke’s tone, the readers can be able to experience by juxtaposing and illustrating both the first and tenth elegies. It can be considered as a kind of epiphany as well, in which Rilke suggests that people have plenty of elements around them to achieve the touch of the divinity. So, it is quite a prolonged philosophical as well as the psychological journey of Rilke, soaring up from the surface of the earth to attain the angelic order and then suddenly returning back to the earth, keeping in mind the same goal which is to achieve the Nirvana but not through the so-called angelic order but through the very material surroundings.

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