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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Interior Castle: Chagall, Rilke & a new Rilke Blog

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Segment 1 of "America Windows" by Marc Chagall, Art Institute of Chicago

In this late afternoon blue winter light, as the window of one year is being shuttered and a new one about to be opened with the flare of a candle, thoughts about an artist and a poet are synchronizing in me.

Segment 2 of "America Windows" by Marc Chagall, Art Institute of Chicago

Wednesday I had the mighty joy of standing in the radiance of Marc Chagall’s stained glass "America Windows" at the Art Institute of Chicago, which he created expressly for the museum out of appreciation. Newly cleaned and returned to the Art Institute in its new modern wing, Chagall’s blues, reds, yellows and pink are as resplendent as they must have been when he completed them in 1977. (If you are interested in learning more about the windows and how Chagall created them out of gratitude for the Art Institute's dedication of a gallery to him, go here; if you ever make it to the Midwest, I feel a trip to the Art Institute is worthwhile for these windows alone.)


Segment 3 of "America Windows" by Marc Chagall, Art Institute of Chicago

"America Windows" by Marc Chagall, Art Institute of Chicago 
(this photo from The History Blog)

As you may have noticed I have been posting a lot of poems by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke these last few months. His focus on the inner landscape is right up my alley, and with every new poem I read, my heart expands a bit more.

What came together for me as Don and I walked the streets of Chicago were the parallels between Marc Chagall and Rainer Maria Rilke. For both men, Russia is incredibly important. Chagall was born there (in Vitebsk, Belarus, in 1887 – he died in 1985), and Rilke (born in Prague in 1875, and died December 29 in 1926 in Switzerland) spent many months there with his dear friend Lou Andreas-Salomé. For Chagall, though he left Vitebsk for Paris and other parts of the world for good when he was 36, Russia remained his soul’s home throughout his 97 years of life. For Rilke, after just a few months in Russia, he claimed it as his heartland and felt that no people understood spirituality more than the Russians. Both men lived through World War I and struggled to make sense of a world in which such a war could happen. Both men migrated to Paris and found intense inspiration from artists there. For both of them, angels populate their work. Chagall’s windows and paintings are sprinkled with angels flying in the skies. For ten years Rilke wrote the Duino Elegies, of which angels are a central theme.

What most impresses me in connecting Chagall and Rilke is how they carried the world consciously in their souls. Chagall left his hometown of Vitebsk, but it was so dear to him that he kept painting it in signs and symbols in many of his paintings, often with his beloved wife Bella as a personal representation of Russia, his soul’s home. Rilke too transformed the stuff of life – things -- into inner material that could remain with him always. And always he was trying to reconcile the true and even dark facts of the world into a harmony of the soul. You can see what I mean in the poem of his I’m posting, below.

In the mind-boggling and cumbersome intensity of the world’s problems bending the corner with us into the new year, I am inspired by these two who continually processed and transformed the facts of the world into the truth of the soul, where our response to the world is what matters. Through creative expressions, we can love this place of ours.

Out of the deep admiration that my friend Lorenzo of The Alchemist’s Pillow and I feel for Rilke’s poetry, and because there is a new volume of daily readings titled A Year with Rilke (translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows), we are launching a new blog containing these daily passages, much like my blog RUMI DAYS, which shares readings from another HarperOne publication, A Year With Rumi. Our blog A Year With Rilke will offer passages of letters, prose and poems of Rainer Maria Rilke exactly as published in that book, except that we will add images to the readings. The blog is live, and daily postings will begin January 1. The following poem will be featured at the blog March 18 and expresses what I have shared today.




The Interior Castle
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Nowhere, Beloved, will the world exist, but within us.
Our lives are constant transformations. The external
grows ever smaller. Where a solid house once stood,
now a mental image takes its place,
almost as if it were all in the imagination.
Our era has created vast reservoirs of power,
as formless as the currents of energy they transmit.
Temples are no longer known. In our hearts
these can be secretly saved. Where one survives—
a Thing once prayed to, worshipped, knelt before—
its true nature seems already to have passed
into the Invisible. Many no longer take it for real,
and do not seize the chance to build it
inwardly, and yet more vividly, with all its pillars and statues.
~ from the Seventh Duino Elegy 




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59 comments:

Bonnie said...

I don't believe this. I just came up to my office after spending an hour flipping through Macy & Burrow's book while sitting by the fire!!! Speak of synchronicity!

Amazon delivered this book to me today. I adore Rilke, have several translations of his work, and quote him frequently on my blog. Looking forward to this new offering Ruth - there can never be enough Rilke.

Bonnie said...

me again. I was so overcome with surprise and excitement at your intention to feature this book of daily Rilke quotations, that I neglected to share how much I enjoyed your photographs of the Chagall windows. His work so mirrors the dance of life, metaphors, images in our interior landscape/castle, that it is a fitting and comfortable pairing with Rilke.

kenju said...

The windows are phenomenal. I will have to acquaint myself with the poetry.

George said...

This is a truly wonderful announcement, Ruth. I really look forward to the new blog on Rilke's poetry. As others have said and will undoubtedly add in their comments, one cannot get enough of Rilke.

I love your photos of the Chagall windows, much as I love the Art Institute of Chicago itself. I also enjoyed your enlightening discussion of the Chagall/Rilke relationships with Russia.

Thanks so much for all that you do. I can go into the new year knowing that I will always be entertained and enlightened by your writing.

Soul Dipper said...

Oh Yum! A whole year of being well fed. Many thanks, Ruth. Love the Chagrall works of art... I marvel over the beauty that rises from the melancholy of the Russian soul.

Mary Ellen said...

Thanks, Ruth, for bringing together two inspiring artists, both favorites of mine. The windows were the highlight of a visit to the Chicago art institute years ago, and Rilke is important as well. I look forward to reconnecting with Rilke over the year. I was expecting some reference to Teresa of Avila as well with your title - it wouldn't have surprised me, in the context of Rilke and Chagall, who both seem to inhabit that inward space with such authority.

deb said...

I know this is going to transform me and I will meet you both there with anticipation and awe and gratitude.

I am interested to learn more of Chagall ( those windows take my breathe away),

and whatever I have read from Rilke I have loved.

wow.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful!
I'm sure to be a regular visitor!

California Girl said...

I just read this to my 23 yr old and he found it very sad. I look forward to the new blog. I have no familiarity with Rilke other than as a literary name I never studies (English Lit major)and from your blog. I feel I have missed out. Perhaps I will be able to acquaint myself now.

HAPPY NEW YEAR RUTH!

Dan Gurney said...

I think what you're doing is just wonderful. Thank you for doing this. I'm buying the book also, as a daily sip of Rilke and Rumi make for a mindful heart.

Patricia said...

You guys just thrill me! What a great gift to us all.

Char said...

i must get that book and i'm so looking forward to the year with rilke as he is one of my most favorite.

beautiful.

and those windows. i think i could sit in front of them for a week.

Vagabonde said...

Marc Chagall is one of my all time favorite artists – I love all his blue tones – they are so vibrant they enter your inner soul I think. I am not too familiar with Rainer Maria Rilke but have read many passages of his poems on blogs. I think that it is interesting that these artists went to Paris to work in their art form but kept their countries in their heart. They had what Friko told me is called “heimat” - I really think they did. Now do I understand that you are starting a new blog with daily entries? This is quite an endeavour. You will do this for one year? Or is your material just from the title of the book and your blog has no definite end?

Terresa said...

Love love love Rilke. And thrilled at you & Lorenzo's new venture and blog, a beautiful way to ring in the new year.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

I have greatly enjoyed the connections you draw between Chagall and Rilke on this post, Ruth, such a fine lead-in to the new blog. The photos of Chagall's windows are truly wondrous and seem to glow with the same warm excitement I feel about launching this daily project with you. It will be a special meeting point for us and our many blog friends.

Arti said...

Ruth, I just want to stop by before the year slips away to wish you a very Happy New Year, you and yours! I have missed so many of your beautiful posts and photography in the past week, I must catch up. I'll be back to read and reread. Thanks so much for sharing with us the pleasures you see in art, nature, poetry, and just everyday life. I've thoroughly enjoyed all your posts, they are gratifying and inspiring. I wish you all the best in 2011, and look forward to more wonders in sync ;)

Elisabeth said...

This is so exciting Ruth, this combination of creative minds. And the blue of these windows is stunning.

I look forward to this new Rilke blog very much.

For us in Australia we are less than five hours away from 1 January 2011, but I expect we might need to wait a little longer for the first post.

Thanks Ruth and indirectly Lorenzo. Happy New Year to you both.

Ruth said...

Dear Bonnie, I am excited about your excitement! I agree that there can never be enough Rilke, and so it's a good thing that he was incredibly prolific. Lorenzo tells me he wrote 11,000 letters or something. Just incredible.

I did not know about other translators of his work besides Edward Snow. I see at this site that translations of his work are on the upswing, with 14 of the cited verse alone. It's a very interesting post I link, thoroughly examining the issues a translator of poetry faces -- rhyme, diction, word order, the context of the poet's previous work -- really fascinating!

I'm glad you enjoyed the photos of Chagall's windows. I'm pleased that they seem to show the vibrance of them, but of course nothing compares to standing there in their glow.

Thank you so much for your comments, my friend.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Kenju, yes the windows are simply amazing, and even more so in person, of course.

Ruth said...

George, it is thrilling to find such a strong, happy response from you to the Rilke we will share together. I look forward to conversations that continue his sparks of inspiration.

Thank you about the photos of Chagall's windows. I was pleased that the radiant glow came through them. Isn't the Art Institute wonderful? I so enjoyed wandering through the Impressionist rooms with Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Rodin . . .

Thank you also for your kind comments about my blog. Having you share my posts, and getting to share yours, are some of the greatest joys of my blogging experience.

Ruth said...

Soul Dipper, I am glad you will join us on the Rilke path of building interior castles. Yes about the Russian soul, and something I had not given much thought to until I read more about Chagall and Rilke.

Ruth said...

Dear Ellen, thank you so much for your comment. I know very little about Saint Teresa of Ávila, and now that I have looked at wiki just a bit, I am drawn in, seeing that her seminal work is El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle) . . . I had no idea. Perhaps Lorenzo knows more about her, since he immerses himself in his now-Spanish culture. I see that I need to find out more myself.

Ruth said...

Deb, I know it's going to transform me too. We each get to (have to) walk this path in solitude, it's an interior journey after all. But to know that we can share our discoveries along the way is tremendous joy. Thank you, Friend.

Ruth said...

Pamela, I'm so glad, thank you!

Shari Sunday said...

Chagal blue. I recognized that shade immediately. The windows are beautiful. And I loved the poem. I have been gradually becoming more and more aware of the life of the interior and how it affects everything else in our lives. Thanks for always expanding my horizons, Ruth. And Happy New Year to you.

Ruth said...

California Girl, I am intrigued by your son's response of sadness to this, and I hope I can find out more about that ...

I was an English Lit major and did not know about Rilke then myself. In fact when my friend Debbie (ahem) introduced me to him twenty years ago, I thought he must be a she with that middle name.

Thank you, and a very hearty Happy New Year to you!

Ruth said...

Dan of the Mindful Heart, beautiful. I look forward to seeing some of Rilke at your blog too, as I have seen Rumi from the daily readings. What a treat to attend to mindfulness together with them!

Ruth said...

Patricia, I'm so glad you are joining us at the Rilke postings. May we all expand to the mindful interior in these coming days.

Claudia said...

Happy New Year, Ruth! May you find happiness and fulfillment in all your endeavors during 2011.

PS - Your post compels me to recommend that you read Stefan Zweig's "The World of Yesterday". His friendship and admiration for Rilke was immense and, like Rilke and Chagall, he also "lived through World War I and struggled to make sense of a world in which such a war could happen."

Ruth said...

Char, I am so happy to welcome you to the Rilke blog travel together through his beautiful heart-mind.

As for those vibrant windows, yes, I went back throughout the day Wednesday and then when it was time to leave, I had a very hard time tearing myself away.

Peter said...

Good thing to combine Rilke and Chagall; Rilke was certainly very close to other artists, sculptors, painters, musicians..., worked for a while as Rodin's secretary, also as art critic.

Awaiting this new blog, I wish you and your family BONNE ANNEE!!!

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, blue is calming. When it is as alive as Chagall's stained glass, it seems to awaken the calmness in me. Yes, all artists end up in Paris at one time or another, it seems.

Yes, it is a new daily post blog, and Lorenzo and I will take turns posting. For me, this kind of blog (the same as what I've done at the Rumi one) is pure ease and pleasure, because it is fun designing the space, and then typing up the entries. The typing of the words directly from the book is itself a meditation for me, and takes little time. Then getting to choose an image to pair with the passage is an extra joy. It will last one year, yes. The Rumi blog I began in March, so I'll continue that one too until March, and then be done posting there.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Terresa, I hope we will see you at the Rilke blog. Your poetic imagination would add so much to the conversation.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, you of the blue elephant avatar must have a certain fondness for the blue. It really does make a beautiful ground for the yellow, orange, pink, white and reds. I've read that blue was the color of heaven for the Egyptians. It does feel very good to start the year with Chagall's vibrant yet calming windows, and sharing Rilke's words with you and our friends.

Julie said...

Ruth I wanted to stop by and wish you and your family a great New New Year. Ive been missing the last couple of days , I got the first couple of step and fell down the rest needless to say Im stiched bruised sore and a chipped tooth . But Im alive thats the best part it could have been alot worse. Ill recover in the next oouple of weeks. I try to keep my one GOOD eye on your blog now and then. Loved those windows there were a nice touch to my rather gloomy day. Ill read the post alot better when Im felling well . All the best Julie in HOlland

Ron Bennett said...

Ruth - great story on Rilke and Chagall - I remember Chagall's windows in Fraumunster Church in Zurich and reading Rilke extensively in the early days of Jane's grief. Two amazing artists and I love your pictures. I'm looking forward to your new blog - blessings for the New Year.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Arti. You are a treasured friend, and I feel privileged to read your excellent reviews of books and films. I think we think alike! We both admire restraint in films, and beautiful spareness in writing. So happy!

Happy New Year to you, my friend.

Marcie said...

Love the connections you've made here between the two artists..I'll look forward to the new blog. And - to you and yours - all the best in this up and coming new year!

Ruth said...

Hello, Elisabeth. Yes, Chagall's blue is a gift of serenity to get lost in.

Wonderful that you will join us at the Rilke postings. We have set the time for Rilke's time zone in Germany or Paris: GMT+1 at around 5:30AM; so it will at least be a little closer to your time (more like 2PM?). We might adjust this . . .

We'll see you there!

Gwen Buchanan said...

Your heart is large enough to encompass the world, Ruth.. Happy New year to you and Don..
May your wishes be grand and all come true...

Ruth said...

Hello, Shari, what a beautiful thing you are finding, that interior life and how we can find peace even when things around us are turbulent. I look forward to practicing this with you in the year ahead! Happy New Year, my friend.

Ruth said...

Claudia, obrigada for introducing me to Zweig and his tragic story. I should have known of him, from what I've just read briefly. I want to learn more.

Happy New Year to you and your family, Claudia, I wish you great abundance, and a visit with your family in Portugal as soon as possible!

Ruth said...

Yes, Peter, his time with Rodin, Cézanne and others taught Rilke much about observation. Maybe you will show us something about Rilke in Paris one day . . .

Bonne Annee to you, my good friend!

Ruth said...

Oh, Julie, how awful! Thank goodness it wasn't worse, but I'm so sorry for your accident. Very sweet of you to come by when you are unwell, and I hope you will heal quickly. Take care, and Happy New Year with health and safety!

Ruth said...

Hi, Ron, I just googled an image of those windows at Fraumunster Church, and they're gorgeous, like pillars of color. I am interested that you turned to Rilke after Pam's accident. Isn't it extraordinary how his own interior work has spread to us!? That just blows me away thinking about it. Someone could think a person is selfish to maintain the inner life, but it's so clear from Rilke's work and impact that this is not so. I am glad you will be joining us at the Rilke blog. Happy New Year to you and Jane!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Marcie, and a beautiful New Year to you!

Ruth said...

Dear Gwen, thank you very much. I wish you, John and Max a year of days of abundance by the Bay!

Susan said...

Ruthie, those windows just burrow into your soul and plant roots. I too could stare at them for hours. As beautiful as the photos are, I can't begin to imagine that beauty in person. I shall have to go and see them for myself.

I haven't been acquainted with Rilke's poetry until you started posting some of his work. He has such tremendous depth. Reminds me of a very good friend of mine, whom I have been so very fortunate to come to love in a short time.

When the structures of our past become memories, it's hard to separate the reality from the wanting it to be just so. Does that make any sense? I have such a hard time conveying my feelings after reading your excellent words. I am so happy to have you as my teacher in things that I would not have encountered, if not for you, pointing the way.

Happy New Year, my sweet friend. May 2011 bring your heart's desires.

love you bunches,
susie-q

Deborah said...

Ruth, I learn so much from coming here, but confess that I sometimes avoid it because I know attention must be paid to what you say, and I'm not always in a slow enough space to do you the honour you deserve.

Breath-takingly beautiful, these windows are. Blue is such a spiritual, emotional, powerful colour and has such a strong effect on so many people - me included. I think the perfect juxtaposition might be of seeing those windows and hearing the poem read aloud at the same time.

You have to be one of the most meticulous, organized people I can imagine. You work, you care for your family, you write beautifully, you take exceptional photographs and you blog regularly in more than one place! And now another one! What's your secret, Ruth?

Bravo. That's all I can say for such beauty. Bravo.

Woman in a Window said...

I'm not sure if this was intended to be critical or grant hope, but this poem grants me hope, that within us lies such power, the power of perception and creation, the promise of tomorrow.

thank you for this

(and i remembered upon reading this post that i have a little book of Chagall's in my attic from decades ago, when my youth was large and hungry for such colour. i'll now go and find what i had forgotten.)

xo
erin

João said...

Beautiful Ruth and thank you for another blessing in the form of a new blog.
Somehow seing the picture of the vitral room I also think of Rothko and its color field paintings...it's all about the light.

Light. It's all we need.

Ginnie said...

I know you and the color of these blues, Ruth. These windows are like having Chartres at your fingertips. I wondered what your trip to Chicago was like for you and in this post I see. I'm guessing this was the perfect way to end your year, angels included!

Jeanie said...

I am not so familiar with Rilke as I am with Chagall, but this post has piqued my interest. (Did he write novels as well? A title -- or bits of one is flying around my head. Well, someone with a name kind of like his did. But I digress...)

Aren't the Chagall windows worth the trip? I love that you were able to make the photos large, something I've never been able to do in blogger. They are striking -- and yes, there is home in bit of color and line. Lovely.

Oliag said...

Dear Ruth...Can you imagine living in a room with those windows surrounding you? What a magical world...it might even drive one crazy! I am familiar with Chagall and love his floating, spiritual, magical work...I am much less familiar with Rilke so it will be a wonderful adventure to get to know his work through your new venture! I'm not sure if I can absorb a poem as rich as the one here on a daily basis though!

I hope this year to "seize the chance to build" and appreciate my inward temple...May you have a wonderful New Year too Ruth!

I can't believe I have never been to Chicago...so many more places to go someday:)

xo

Montag said...

Absolutely stunning; for some reason this poem of Rilke's reminds me of Yevtushenko's The Bratsk Station. On the surface, they are not similar. Both of them are very good.

Stratoz said...

amazed by the photo of the complete glass project. blue! color! light!

LMH said...

Hello, Neighbor. I have a friend who is sharing Rilke poems with me. I have always loved the Rilke quotes that I have come across, but have never delved into his poems to any great extent. Today I was reading one of the Duino Elegies that my friend shared - and as I was reading it I thought "Rilke is writing what Marc Chagall was painting." (No, I am not a Chagall scholar, either, just a passionate appreciator). This being the internet age I googled their names together, and I came across your blog. (The beautiful windows brought tears to my eyes.) I love that we made the same connection. Thank you for sharing this post!

Cassandra said...

Hello, I stumbled across your blog today and wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts about Rilke and Chagall, and for these lovely photos of Chagall's windows. You brightened my evening. Many, many thanks!

Ruth said...

So glad, Cassandra! Thank you.