“It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.
We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.
And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Here’s a spectacular catalogue describing “Angels” from Rilke’s Duino Elegies, as translated by Stephen Mitchell:
Early successes, Creation’s pampered favorites,
mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn
of all Beginning,—pollen of the flowering godhead,
joints of pure light, corridors, stairways, thrones,
space formed from essence, shields made of ecstasy, storms
of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly, alone,
mirrors: which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back, into themselves, entire.
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The Portrait of a Lady
No one delves into a character’s psychology quite like Henry James, and in Isabel Archer, he found a protagonist more than worthy of his meticulous deconstruction. She’s a formidable intellectual who doesn’t see the value in intellectual pursuits, she’s an idealist who isn’t quite sure what her ideals are, she’s an independent who is completely and utterly controlled by the malignant, vicious people in her life. She has a complex, distinctive personality and an indomitable will, all of which is systematically broken down by a small man with “exquisite taste.” It’s as tragic as it is insightful, sensitively portraying the experience of patriarchal oppression through the eyes of a woman who is determined to “behave picturesquely.”
Acquired: through kht, who warned me I would relate to the protagonist to an uncomfortable extent. I’ve thrice been told that I am like Isabel Archer, once as a lament, once as a compliment [To be clear, this was me –kht], and once as a scathing criticism. Only a Henry James character could find so many different ways to be relatable to a real person’s life.
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