Rilke on Sexes and Sexism

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, sexism, and gender issues, buoyed by events out there in the world, and in my own personal life–getting married and figuring out the meaning of being a wife.

I know so little about the history of patriarchy, misogyny, and gender identity. This creates both the anxiety of not being well-informed, and the optimism that I have a lot to learn. My current Amazon browsing history are lists of books by authors like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Gerda Lerner, and topics surrounding the world’s oldest prejudice.

I’m overwhelmed just thinking about all these books I’ve come across. Where do I start? Who’s the least biased? Who’s the most enjoyable writer? Reading and educating myself is the best option I know, and it would take years to absorb all these books, and even more years to question, understand and integrate them into my personal life. How do I speed up this process?

In the midst of all this angst, I sat down and opened Rilke On Love and Other Difficulties.

“Do not be bewildered by the surfaces,” he says.

Then he goes on and offers a succinct definition of what it means for humans to be in relation.

And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.

We are only just now beginning to look upon the relation of one individual person to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such associations have no model before them.

And yet in the changes brought about by time there is already a good deal that would help our timorous novitiate.

… some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.

This advance will (at first much against the will of the outstripped men) change the love-experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer of man to woman.

And this more human love (that will fulfill itself, infinitely considerate and gentle, and kind and clear in binding and releasing) will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this; that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

The Female Human Being

“someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman.

And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.” – Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet #7

Rilke and the Greatness of Death

I have been on a kick, collecting poems about Death, not morbidly, but with a feverish yearning to learn how I can live each moment of every day with more fire in my gut and under my butt.

I fear that if I don’t do this, I will sloth around, wasting time, lamenting and whining like Arjuna before Krishna.

I’ve been through a few losses, small losses. Small as they are (in the sense that no one died a biological death), I feel the intensity of the emotion in my physical body.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown in playpen full of baby tigers and elephants, and even though we’re having fun (and they’re so cute), these animals don’t know how big and powerful they are, so things ache a little when we play around.

One night while going over old podcasts I’ve been procrastinating on, I found a couple nice Rilke poems/quotes.

“The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated,

death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”

– From A Wild Love For The World, a conversation with Joanna Macy on On Being.

A few happy clicks and reads later (woohoo, the Internets!), I found Sonnets to Orpheus, and how I love the image of singing while climbing, a ringing glass that “shatters as it rings”. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And whoa, I’ve never thought that I live “among the disappearing”, but hell, that’s what we are, transients.

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XIII

Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened,
like winter, which even now is passing.

For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.

Be forever dead in Eurydice,
and climb back singing.
Climb praising as you return to connection.

Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.

Be. And, at the same time, know what it is not to be.
That emptiness inside you allows you to vibrate in resonance with your world. Use it for once.

To all that has run its course,
and to the vast unsayable numbers of beings abounding in Nature,
add yourself gladly, and
cancel the cost.