Saturday, March 17, 2012

Beauty Is Nothing but the Beginning of Terror

Angels we have heard on high
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewunderen es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies 1

Beauty is the beginning of terror. Love is the beginning of loss. Great emotions are tangled up in our own dissolution or the loss of those we cherish.

Life is a vale of sorrow. But sometimes—sometimes—our most sublime experiences happen just at the edge of tears.

Happy weekend.

1 Stephen Mitchell (Ed., trans.), The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. New York: Vintage International, 1989, pp. 150–151.

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