House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Pitcher, Fruit-Tree, Window
Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, written between 1912 and 1922, are often considered to be one of the cornerstones of European literature in the 20th Century.
Produced in a time of collapse and change, amidst political turmoil and spiritual flux, the poems grapple with what it means to be human, charting the soul’s journey through existential despair and fear and separation (“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the orders of Angels?”) to moments of revelation and ecstasy (“Praise this world, not the untold world, to the Angel.”)
Rilke is a poet concerned with the task of inhabiting the world - despite its transience and the fact of our mortality - and in the presence of everyday objects, buildings, Things (“Dingen”) he finds his way into a kind of being that exalts in our fleetingness. In the Ninth Elegy he arrives at the phrase, “Perhaps we are here in order to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window [...]” (In German: “Haus, Brücke, Brunnen, Tor, Krug, Obstbaum, Fenster.”)
A century on from the completion of Rilke’s landmark cycle of poems, this radio hymn takes up the poet’s call to dwell in “the time of the sayable”, with contributions from post-humanist thinker Bayo Akomolafe, archeologist Bettina Bader, German scholar Karen Leeder, and author and storyteller Martin Shaw.
Readings by Ella Russell
Original music by Phil Smith
Produced by Phil Smith
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4