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Cavafy & Rilke

‘For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) - they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. [ . . . ] 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 into 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’ - Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

‘But it lies in the nature of these poems, in their condensation and abbreviation (in the way they frequently state lyric totals instead of listing the figures that were necessary for the result) that they seem more designed to be grasped in general by means of the inspiration of those of like direction than by what one calls ‘understanding.’ Two inmost experiences were decisive for their production: the resolve that grew up more and more in my spirit to hold life open toward death, and, on the other side, the spiritual need to situate the transformations of love in this wider whole differently than was possible in the narrower orbit of life (which simply shut out death as the Other). Here, so to speak, would be the place to look for the ‘plot’ of these poems, and now and then it stands, I believe, strongly and simply in the foreground.’ - Rilke, letter to Nanny von Escher, December 22, 1923

‘in a world in which fate and even God himself have become famous above all because they answer us with silence [ . . . ] the doll was the first to inflict on us that tremendous silence (larger than life) which later kept breathing on us out of space, whenever we came to the limits of our existence. It was facing the doll, as it stared at us, that we experienced for the first time (or am I mistaken?) that emptiness of feeling, that heart-pause, in which we could have vanished’ - Rilke, ‘Some Reflections on Dolls’

‘Wretched social laws—a result of neither health measures nor any logical judgment—have diminished my work. They have hindered my means of expression; they have prevented me from bringing enlightenment and emotion to those who are made like me. The difficult circumstances of life have made me try hard to fully master the English language. What a pity! If I had put the same effort into mastering French—if, that is, I had had the opportunity, if French had been similarly useful to me—possibly in that language—as a result of the convenience offered by the pronouns, that tell and hide—I would have been able to express myself more freely. But, what can I do? I am unfairly wasted in the aesthetic domain. And I will remain an object of conjecture; and they will understand me better from all those things I denied.’ – Cavafy, note (1905)

‘Guess work indeed —when intelligently directed —loses much of its risk- iness, if the user transforms it into a sort of hypothetical experience. This is easier in the description of a battle, of a state of society, of a scenery. By the imagination (and by the help of incidents experienced and remotely or nearly connected) the user can transport himself into the midst of the circumstances and can thus create an experience. The same remark holds good —though it presents more difficulty —in matters of feeling’ – Cavafy, Ars Poetica (1903)

The poems one writes, though not true to one's actual life, are true to other lives —not generally of course, but specifically — and the reader to whose life the poem fits admits and feels the poem. . . . And when one lives, hears and searches intelligently and tries to write wisely his work is bound, one may say, to fit some life.’ – Cavafy, Ars Poetica (1903)