I have become really excited about poetry recently. I love the power that it has. The power to transform your experience, to change your perspective and to show you something new. Poetry has given me a new tool in which to think about music, and, probably more importantly, has given me more tools enabling me to provide rich ways into unfamiliar music.
Rainer Maria Rilke is my current favorite. In my last concert project, one quote by Rilke helped me to unify the program. “For Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” – from his first Duino Elegy.
Without much trouble, this idea could easily be a theory of dissonance (which was part of the reason why it helped to unify the program): Dissonance on it’s own is rather painful and nasty to listen to. However, in the context of consonance, the places where dissonance is found are some of the most beautiful in music. Take for example the dissonance at 3:20 in Bach’s St. Mathew Passion. If Bach wrote ONLY those two notes, it would be painful, and in some contexts — terrifying. The preceding material (the consonance) to such moments allow such dissonance (beginnings of terror) to be experienced as beauty.
There are, as I have mentioned in other posts, many forms of dissonances. But it seems like the balance between nasty, painful and terrifying sounds with fairly neutral or pleasant forms holds up quite well with this theory: Beauty is only the beginning of Terror.
But this post is about my newly found admiration of Poetry. I have given one example as to why I have found it helpful. Here is another selection from Rilke’s work that I also find rather exciting.
“…You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed in to our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves – only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth them.
But all my poems had a different origin; so they are not poems. ” – page 20 from The Notebooks of Malte Lauride Brigge by Rilke
In this young man, Rilke prescribes a certain method, attitude, or style with which one must approach such a subject as reverend as poetry. He is not advocating that one should not write at all until one has something to write. It is necessary to practice and learn. In his letters to young poet he says:
“Avoid at first those forms which appear to be the most facile and commonplace — they are the most difficult. It takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity. Therefore, save yourself form these general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you… if your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” – Rilke