Every great artist has a masterpiece.
Rilke is one of my favorite poets.
There is a concept I call a “title poem”.
This is an artistic work that can be anything: maybe a painting, a song, a poem, etc.
It reveals the zenith, the apex, the final message that an artist has after which they can die and feel complete.
One accessible example is Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” that he wrote on his deathbed.
“These songs of freedom, they’re all I’ve ever had.”
Rilke created weeping beauties that captured the essence of life and its twisted ironies and capacity for beauty.
If I had to select one poem of his that I would call his title poem, if I had to choose one that was a favorite, it would be “The Voices”.
The poem speaks to his source of inspiration (which is what Marley did on his deathbed).
I love the use of the image and metaphor of castrati; it captures the common preference for innocence over reality. Additionally, the violent production of innocence with castration is tragically ironic.
The rich and fortunate do well to keep silent,
for no one cares to know who and what they are.
But those in need must reveal themselves,
must say: I am blind,
or: I’m on the verge of going blind,
or: nothing goes well with me on earth,
or: I have a sickly child,
or: I have little to hold me together…
And chances are this is not nearly enough.
And because people try to ignore them as they
pass by them: these unfortunate ones have to sing!
And at times one hears some excellent singing!
Of course, people differ in their tastes: some would
prefer to listen to choirs of boy-castrati.
But God himself comes often and stays long,
when the castrati’s singing disturbs Him.
One final note:
Rilke is known for his “Letters to a Young Poet.”
I love the book, and after reading it, felt compelled to write this satire piece.
If you haven’t read Rilke, do yourself a favor and pick up one of his books. You might want to start with a “best of” kind of book because he did write a lot of stuff that was out there – meaning, he evolved a lot through his life and if you read only a period of his work, you might choose something that is not fully representative of his work.