Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rilke and The Death of Mary

A Follower of Hugo Van der Goes (c 1440-1482)
Death of the Virgin c. 1500
Oil on oak
38.7 cm x 35.6 cm
The National Gallery, London

The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875 – December 29, 1926) wrote a fifteen-poem cycle on the life of the Virgin Mary (Das Marien-Leben) (1912)

Mary is depicted as pure and holy, but also possessing a great power and reverence as well as great humility, meekness and mildness.

The last three poems of the cycle are on the Death of Mary (Vom Tode Mariä) and her Assumption into Heaven

The composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) set the whole cycle to music (Das Marienleben , op. 27) in 1922 and then revised it in 1948

Here are the recordings of the three songs on the Death of Mary with Roxolana Roslak, soprano and Glenn Gould, piano

Vom Tode Mariae I

Vom Tode Mariae II

Vom Tode Mariae III

Below is an English translation of the last three poems (by Knut W. Barde)

The Death of Mary I

The same tall Angel who once brought the news
Of the birth to her,
Stood there, waiting for her to notice him,
And spoke: Now is the time for you to appear.
And she was frightened as then and proved herself
Again as the maid servant, deeply affirming his command.
But he was radiant and coming infinitely closer,
vanished, yet shone from her face, and called
The widely dispersed proselytizers
To gather at the house on the hill,
The house of the last supper. They arrived more heavily
And entered with fear: There she lay, stretched out
In the narrow bedstead, mysteriously bathed in
Ruin and in being chosen,
Wholly unharmed, like one who had not been used,
And listened to angelic song.
Then, when she saw them all waiting behind their candles,
she tore herself away from the surfeit of
Of the voices and with an overflowing heart yet gave away
the two dresses that she possessed,
And lifted her face to this one and that one...
(Oh origin of nameless brooks of tears).

But she settled into her weakness
And pulled the heavens down to Jerusalem
So closely, that her soul,
As it left her, only had to stretch a little:
Already he, who knew everything about her,
Lifted her into her divine nature.

The Death of Mary II

Who had realized that until her arrival
the crowded heavens had been incomplete?
The risen one had taken his seat,
but next to him, for twenty-four years,
there was an empty space. And they began already
to get used to the pure gap,
which seemed to have healed, because with his beautiful
spreading radiance the son was filling it.

Thus, when she entered the heavens,
she did not go towards him, despite her strong longing;
there was no room, only He was there and shone
with a radiance that hurt her.
But just now as her moving figure joined
with the new blessed ones
and stood discreetly, as light with light, next to them,
there erupted from her being such an assault of
glowing light, that the blinded angel who was illuminated by her
cried out: Who is this one?
A wonderment arose. Then they all saw
how God-Father above shielded our Lord,
so that in the mild gloaming
the empty spot could now be seen
like a small pain, a sense of loneliness,
as something he was still bearing, a remnant from
his time on earth, a dried up injury-.
They watched her; she looked ahead with fear,
bent far forward, as if she felt: I am
His most enduring pain-; and suddenly broke forth.
But the angels took her in their fold
and steadied her and sang with blessed voices
and carried her up the final steps.

The Death of Mary III

However, sooner than the apostle Thomas, who
Came after it was too late, the quick angel, who had
long been prepared for this, stepped in
and ordered at the burial place:

Push the stone aside. If you want to know
Where she is, who moves your heart:
Look: just as a lavenderpillow
She had been laid in there for a while,

That in the future the earth would smell of her
In its folds like a fine cloth.
Everything dead (do you feel), everything sick
Is stunned by her fragrance.

Look at the linen: where is it white,
Where becomes blinding and does not shrink?
This light out of this pure corpse
Was more clarifying to him than sunshine

Aren't you amazed, how gently she escaped him?
It is almost as if she were still here, nothing has moved.
But the Heavens are shaking above:
Man, kneel down and see me go and sing