Thursday, March 24, 2011

On Reading Rainer Maria Rilke in Italian on a Cold March Day

I am hiding from my homework at this moment. I want to curl up and sleep and not think about St. Thomas Aquinas, possibly ever again. But I was remembering this moment from earlier today, and I thought... I love to learn. And I should share it. 

So here is a snippet of happiness in my day, that appeared like the groundhog who pokes his head above ground promising spring. 

Let me begin by saying that I do not speak a single word of Italian beyond ciao (which is a catch all and can sound equally like the normal thing any fluent person would say, or the stupid thing that all non-native speakers learn when they tramp through beautiful Italian landscapes). I bought the book on the quick whim that it is my favorite collection of letters, the growing and poetry and love so very palpable in Rilke's words. I bought it because my stomach was full of caffé Mimi et Coco, because my eyes were glazed with later afternoon Roma sun, because as the chill of New England winter shuddered its echo in my skin, I wanted to clutch the warm of Italy a little while longer.

So I bought the book in Italian. I don't even have an Italian - English dictionary, and honestly, it wouldn't help, because I would be required to look up every single word at least twice. And so instead, as the snow clatters onto my window on the 24th of March, in this crazy journey towards spring and blossoms... I let the words I do not know feed me. I let the Italian rush headfirst into my bloodstream and without knowing it, I mouth the words loud, feel them in my vocal cords, smooth and supple like water. And I feel refreshed in their strange familiarity. And mio caro signor Kappus (my dear Mr. Kappus) - they are still who they are, carved in these letters to a giovanne poeta, and I think that even in the beautiful incomprehensible Italian, Rilke is writing to me, a young poet, and I see it and taste it, the words just as beautiful sounds without their customary weightiness:

Voi siete così giovane, così nuovo al cospetto delle cose, che vorrei pregarvi quanto posso di essere paziente di fronte a tutto quello che non è risolto nel vostro cuore. Sforzatevi di amare i vostri stessi problemi, ciascuno comme una camera che vi fosse chiusa, come un libro scritto in una lingua straniera. Non cercate per il momento delle resposte, che non possono esservi date, perché non sapreste metterle in pratica, viverle. E, precisamente, si tratta di vivere tutto. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff)
I whisper thank you to the Italian coursing through my veins, for the small black and white book that promises words as sound, as music, as the very foreign language I do not understand but slip into, a dark wave over my head. Thank you to the time in my chaos for words, so tender and sweet, that breathe back the joy of learning into my day. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff)

Hilary (who loves words)

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it wonderful how even when not understood, the words are beautiful, and life-giving? And sometimes, our heart understands even when our mind doesn't. You stir my homesickness for Roma.


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