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Rilke's Duino angels and the angels of Islam.

This article's point of departure is Rilke's specification that the angels of his Duino Elegies The Duino Elegies (German Duineser Elegien) are a set of ten elegies written in German by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke from 1912 to 1922. Rilke had been visiting Princess Marie von Thurn in the Duino castle in the region when he came across some cliffs from which he  are not to be equated with Christian ones, being more comparable to Islamic angels. Existing efforts to apply this notion to the Duino Elegies have focused on the phenomenological aspect of the elegiac el·e·gi·ac  
1. Of, relating to, or involving elegy or mourning or expressing sorrow for that which is irrecoverably past: an elegiac lament for youthful ideals.

 angels, but this article argues that the rhetorical function of the angels within the cycle is key, and it demonstrates how Rilke's angels are rhetorically linked with the angels of Islam. The critical connection between the Duino Elegies and the Qur'an is that the angels in both cases are finally subordinate to the objectives of the poetic persona/poet. The article concludes by showing how Rilke's rhetorical use of his Duino angels is also continuous with the conventions of the classical German elegy elegy, in Greek and Roman poetry, a poem written in elegiac verse (i.e., couplets consisting of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line). The form dates back to 7th cent. B.C. in Greece and poets such as Archilochus, Mimnermus, and Tytraeus. .


"Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic/orders? And even if one of them pressed me/suddenly to his heart: I'd be consumed/in his stronger existence." (1) These lines, the famous, ever startling star·tle  
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.

2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten.
 opening of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies (completed in 1922), have been explicated almost as much for their biographical interest as for their primacy within Rilke's text--a cycle of ten elegies
For the poetry, see Elegy.

Elegies (エレジーズ 
 expounding ex·pound  
v. ex·pound·ed, ex·pound·ing, ex·pounds
1. To give a detailed statement of; set forth: expounded the intricacies of the new tax law.

 nothing less than the mature poet's conception of his own place and calling within the world of creation. Along with his Sonnets to Orpheus Sonnets to Orpheus were written by German language poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) in 1922 as a grave-monument for Vera Ouckama Knoop (1900 – 1919), a playmate of Rilke's daughter Ruth. There are 55 sonnets in the sequence, divided into two sections. , also completed in 1922, this late work is widely considered Rilke's masterpiece, if not in fact the supreme accomplishment of twentieth-century German lyric poetry as a whole. (2)

Written in early 1912, well after the Prague-born poet had first established his literary reputation, these opening lines of the Duino Elegies mark a major comeback for Rilke after a long period of inactivity in which he intermittently despaired of ever writing again. Certainly the circumstances surrounding their inception are well known. Since October of 1911, he had been the house guest of Princess Marie Princess Marie may refer to:
  • Princess Marie Aglaë of Liechtenstein (born 1940), wife and cousin of Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein
  • Princess Marie Alexandra of Baden (1902-1944), Landgravine of Hesse
  • Princess Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962), French psychoanalyst
 von Thurn und Taxis at Duino Castle on the Adriatic. One day in January, after receiving an annoying piece of business mail, he had fled outdoors to mull over mull over

to study or ponder: he mulled over the arrangements [probably from muddle]

Verb 1.
 his response just as a strong bora was blowing up from the sea. Almost reverentially rev·er·en·tial  
1. Expressing reverence; reverent.

2. Inspiring reverence.

, the Princess relays what ensued in her memoirs:
   Rilke climbed down to the bastions which, jutting to the
   east and west, were connected to the foot of the castle by
   a narrow path along the cliffs. These cliffs fall steeply, for
   about two hundred feet, into the sea. Rilke paced back and
   forth, deep in thought, since the reply to the letter so concerned
   him. Then, all at once, in the midst of his brooding,
   he halted suddenly, for it seemed to him that in the raging
   of the storm a voice bad called to him: "Who, if I cried
   out, would hear me among the angelic orders?"....

      He took out his notebook, which he always carried
   with him, and wrote down these words, together with a few
   lines that formed themselves without his intervention ...
      Very calmly he climbed back up to his room, set
   his notebook aside, and replied to the difficult letter.
      By that evening the entire elegy had been written
   down. (3)

The opening lines of the Duino Elegies, then, have a more than usually dramatic bit of inception history attached to them, but they are striking as well for introducing the idiosyncratically conceived angels that are the figurative mainstay of the entire poetic cycle. By the beginning of the second elegy, these angels have become the object of an apostrophe apostrophe, figure of speech
apostrophe, figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present.
 that is sustained over the remaining eight elegies and--we might say--over the next ten years of Rilke's life, till the completion of the cycle in 1922. Commensurate with their centrality in this work, the angels have come in for a good deal of critical attention, yet Rilke's best known specification about how they are to be viewed has inspired surprisingly little discussion. It is a fact all the more curious since the comment in question--the poet's advice to his Polish translator in a letter of 1925--has been cited fully as much as the inception account itself: "The 'angel' of the Elegies has nothing to do with the angel of the Christian heaven (rather with the angel figures of Islam)." (4) In what relation does this somewhat cryptic utterance stand to the events at Duino described above, on the one hand, and to Rilke's sustained apostrophe to the angels, on the other? To date the most suggestive evidence for supporting a connection is presented in the respective work of Annemarie Schimmel Annemarie Schimmel, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Imtiaz (April 7, 1922 - January 26, 2003) was a well known and very influential German Iranologist and scholar who wrote extensively on Islam and Sufism.  and Ingeborg Solbrig, an Orientalist and a Germanist primarily concerned with tracing Rilke's exposure to, and mediation of, Islamic culture and thought. (5) Beginning with her treatment of Rilke's sonnet sonnet, poem of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, restricted to a definite rhyme scheme. There are two prominent types: the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet, composed of an octave and a sestet (rhyming abbaabba cdecde  "Mohammed's Summoning" in 1980, Solbrig in particular has not only pursued the question of Rilke's peculiarly "Islamic" angelology an·gel·ol·o·gy  
The branch of theology having to do with angels.

1. Theology. the doctrine or theory concerning angels.
2. the beliefs concerning angels.
, but has also argued for the intuitive identification of the Duino-inspired poet with the desert merchant awakened a·wak·en  
tr. & intr.v. a·wak·ened, a·wak·en·ing, a·wak·ens
To awake; waken. See Usage Note at wake1.

[Middle English awakenen, from Old English
 by the archangel archangel, in religion
archangel (ärk`ānjəl), chief angel. They are four to seven in number. Sometimes specific functions are ascribed to them. The four best known in Christian tradition are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.
 Gabriel to his religious calling. (6) As provocative as Solbrig's discussion is, however--and its salient points will be reviewed below--it stops short of considering that Rilke's declared preference for the "angel figures of Islam" may be inspired as much by his appreciation of their rhetorical function within the Quran as by his interest in their non-Christian phenomenology phenomenology, modern school of philosophy founded by Edmund Husserl. Its influence extended throughout Europe and was particularly important to the early development of existentialism. . Building on the biographical affinities between Rilke and Muhammad already hinted at, the present article will focus on this question of rhetorical identification between poet and prophet, on the one hand, and between elegiac and Islamic angels, on the other. In so doing, it will further attempt to suggest in what sense Rilke's recourse to the sacred in his angelic apostrophe is continuous with, but also uniquely transformative of, the conventions of the German elegiac tradition.

Before we turn to consider how Rilke distinguishes between "Christian" and "Islamic" angels at all, however, it may be useful to review what is known about his exposure to Islamic culture in broad general outline--leaving aside for the moment the more critical question of his relation to Muhammad. (7) By all accounts, this contact would have begun at the latest by the spring of 1899, when he undertook the first of two journeys to Russia (the second was in the summer of 1900) with his close friend Lou Andreas-Salome and her husband, the Orientalist Friedrich Carl Andreas. The latter had a special interest in Muslim minorities within Russia. It was under Andreas's tutelage TUTELAGE. State of guardianship; the condition of one who is subject to the control of a guardian.  that Rilke in all likelihood became acquainted not only with the Quran itself, but also with an influential popular account of the prophet's life that had been circulating in Europe since the eighteenth century, Boulainvillier's La vie de Mohamed, published in 1730. (8) A later phase in Rilke's engagement with Islamic culture (albeit with a non-religious text) came slightly later, during his sojourn in Paris and studies with Rodin in 1902: it was here, at the sculptor's suggestion, that he read The Thousand and One Nights (at least in part). To these primarily literary investigations, we can add his further travels, this time within the Islamic world itself. In 1911 Rilke undertook a trip to Tunisia and Egypt, following the example of his wife, the artist Clara Westhoff Clara Westhoff (born 21 September 1878 in Bremen; died 9 March 1954 in Fischerhude) was a sculptress. Biography
At the early age of 17 Clara Westhoff went to Munich where she attended a private art school.
, who had journeyed to North Africa some years before. (9) And from October of 1912 to February of 1913, he travelled in Spain, reading the Quran, as we know from his letters, expressing his admiration for the Moorish influence still felt so vividly in the southern part of the country. (10) Needless to say, all of this helped form a rich and varied cultural backdrop, against which Rilke's protracted pro·tract  
tr.v. pro·tract·ed, pro·tract·ing, pro·tracts
1. To draw out or lengthen in time; prolong: disputants who needlessly protracted the negotiations.

 work on his Elegies must properly be seen. (11)

But let us return now to our main question, and to the text of the Elegies themselves: how is it that Rilke distinguishes between "Christian" and "Islamic" angels at all? Angels (etymologically, "messengers") are, after all, a Judeo-Christian concept to some degree simply taken over by the newer religion, Islam. The most obvious argument for stressing phenomenological differences between the two is offered by the second elegy. (12) Its first, and especially second, strophes posit a kind of angel remarkably unlike anything usually encountered in Western literature. Rilke's persona apostrophizes,
   Favored first prodigies, creation's darlings,
   mountain ranges, peaks, dawn-red ridges
   of all genesis,--pollen of a flowering godhead,
   links of light, corridors, stairs, thrones,
   spaces of being, shields of rapture, torrents
   of unchecked feeling and then suddenly, singly,
   mirrors: scooping their outstreamed beauty
   back into their peerless faces. (13)

The first strophe stro·phe  
a. The first of a pair of stanzas of alternating form on which the structure of a given poem is based.

b. A stanza containing irregular lines.

 also provides a Biblical point of contrast to these intimidating and specular spec·u·lar  
Of, resembling, or produced by a mirror or speculum.

specu·lar·ly adv.

Adj. 1.
 Rilkean angels with its allusion to the apocryphal a·poc·ry·phal  
1. Of questionable authorship or authenticity.

2. Erroneous; fictitious: "Wildly apocryphal rumors about starvation in Petrograd . . .
 book of Tobit. That story presents the archangel Raphael reassuringly--even cozily--anthropomorphized in his role as the boy Tobias's anonymous traveling companion. Thus, Rilke--
   Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas,
   I sing to you, almost fatal birds of the soul,
   knowing what you are. Where are the days of Tobias,
   when one of your most radiant stood at that simple doorway,
   dressed for travel and no longer frightening
   (to the youth who peered out curiously, a youth like him). (14)

The contrast here between the elegiac and Biblical angels, one may note, is heightened by the suggestion of the latter's obsolescence ob·so·les·cent  
1. Being in the process of passing out of use or usefulness; becoming obsolete.

2. Biology Gradually disappearing; imperfectly or only slightly developed.
 ("Where are the days of Tobias ...?"), a point to which we will return below.

What is known of Rilke's reception of Islam--beginning, again, with his tutorial at the hands of F. C. Andreas--in fact gives good reason to assume that he deliberately assimilated certain features of its angelology into his writing: at least, that is, as these were mediated by European scholars of Islam. Agreement may be seen, for example, in the cosmic proportions and terrible aspect of his angels, as detailed above, and those of Muslim tradition. (15) His recourse to animal imagery (cf. the line "I sing to you, almost fatal birds of the soul") also has some precedent in Islam, which assigns to the eight cherubim cherubim

four-winged, four-faced angels inspired Ezekiel to carry God’s message to the people. [O.T.: Ezek. 1:15]

See : Angel


defended tree of life with flaming swords. [O.T.: Genesis 3:24]

See : Guardianship
 a variety of animal features--including, prominently, Muhammad's mount, Buraq. (16) Yet whatever the secondary materials that Rilke may have drawn on in fashioning his Duino angels, his primary source of Islamic "inspiration" was unquestionably un·ques·tion·a·ble  
Beyond question or doubt. See Synonyms at authentic.

 Quranic material itself. Accordingly, it is to the Quran and his personal reception of it that we must look to clarify the rhetorical similarities of Rilke's Duino angels with the angels of Islam. The specific claim to be developed here is that Rilke saw the (specular) relation of his own Duino angels to his poetic persona prefigured in the relation of the archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad.

Since for Rilke the central element of interest in Muhammad's life was certainly its presentation of Muhammad's call to prophecy (this was the first feature he memorialized, in "Mohammed's Summoning," of 1908), let us review that story as it is conveyed by the Quran and related sources. The Quran ("Recitation rec·i·ta·tion  
a. The act of reciting memorized materials in a public performance.

b. The material so presented.

a. Oral delivery of prepared lessons by a pupil.

"), the record of God's revelations to Muhammad over the course of more than twenty years TWENTY YEARS. The lapse of twenty years raises a presumption of certain facts, and after such a time, the party against whom the presumption has been raised, will be required to prove a negative to establish his rights.
, is not of course a narrative in a strict sense at all, nor even a chronological arrangement of passages of revelation. For the European neophyte ne·o·phyte  
1. A recent convert to a belief; a proselyte.

2. A beginner or novice: a neophyte at politics.

a. Roman Catholic Church A newly ordained priest.
, it would thus not be a text easily assimilated without some outside knowledge of Muhammad's life, the events of which are only obliquely alluded to in its individual sections.

The beginning of the ninety-sixth surah surah
 or sura

Any chapter of the Qur'an. According to Muslim belief, each of the 114 surahs, which vary in length from several lines (known as ayahs) to several pages, encompasses one or more divine revelations of Muhammad.
, nonetheless, corresponds to that moment on the night of January 12, 611, when the archangel Gabriel first appeared to Muhammad, asleep in a mountain cave at Hira', and ordered him to read. (17) A more complete account of the visitation VISITATION. The act of examining into the affairs of a corporation.
     2. The power of visitation is applicable only to ecclesiastical and eleemosynary corporations. 1 Bl. Com. 480; 2 Kid on Corp. 174.
, however, based on traditional extra-Quranic materials, is given, for instance, by Boulainvilliers and is worth summarizing here also. In this more detailed rendition, Muhammad is portrayed as being awakened from a deep sleep by a blinding light; after his eyes adjust to it he perceives an angel standing before him who spans the distance between heaven and earth, and is terrified ter·ri·fy  
tr.v. ter·ri·fied, ter·ri·fy·ing, ter·ri·fies
1. To fill with terror; make deeply afraid. See Synonyms at frighten.

2. To menace or threaten; intimidate.
. The angel lifts him to his feet by his hair--Muhammad feels no pain--and addresses him in a voice that fills him with fear. In the name of their common creator, he hands him a scroll and orders him to read. Muhammad responds that he is unable to read, but the angel admonishes him to do so before he leaves for the first time. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 other accounts, Muhammad later has the sense that the writing has descended into his heart and, after three years of keeping word of his visitations private, he is enjoined by the angel to make his message public. (18)

In her analysis of Rilke's sonnet "Mohammed's Summoning," Solbrig has pointed to the balance of power between Muhammad and the archangel as the all-important thematic issue for Rilke in his reception of the revelation story of the ninety-sixth surah. The moment that the confused and reluctant merchant accepts the divine imperative to read, i.e., in the instant of his submission, his transformation from illiterate to prophetic virtuoso is realized, and according to Rilke, the angel himself must then offer his obeisance: "Then he read: so deeply, that the Angel bowed./And was already someone who had read/and was able and obeyed and brought to pass." (19) Interestingly, this act of submission on the angel's part, in his turn, signalling a shift in the balance of power, is Rilke's own elaboration; it is neither reported by Boulainvilliers nor hinted at in the Quran.

It is this question of relative power and prophetic self-assertion, however, that is central again when Rilke next gives evidence of his involvement with the Quran--in his letter to Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis written in Spain and dated December 17, 1912. Here, in the land where Islam most impressively penetrated into Europe, he gives full voice to the disenchantment dis·en·chant  
tr.v. dis·en·chant·ed, dis·en·chant·ing, dis·en·chants
To free from illusion or false belief; undeceive.

[Obsolete French desenchanter, from Old French,
 with his own religion, Christianity, that has been building in him for some time. He writes,
   By the way, you must know, Princess, that I've been consumed
   since Cordoba with an almost rabid anti-Christian
   feeling, I'm reading the Quran, in places it takes on a
   voice for me, in which I'm immersed with all my strength,
   like the wind in the organ. Here one assumes one is in a
   Christian country--well, here too, that is long gone, it was
   Christian.... [R]eally, one should no longer seat oneself
   at this obsolete table and palm off the finger bowls, which
   are still standing around, as sustenance. The fruit is sucked
   out--now, to put it crassly, it's a matter of simply having
   to spit out the peels. And yet: again and again Protestants
   and American Christians make a brew with these tea
   leaves that have been steeping for two thousand years.
   Muhammad was anyway the closest thing; like a river
   through an ancient mountain range, he breaks his way
   through to the one God with whom one can converse in
   grand fashion every morning, without the telephone called
   "Christ," into which people are continually calling:
   Hello, who's there?---and no one answers. (20)

Elsewhere in his correspondence Rilke explains his rejection of Christianity in terms that have also been taken to apply to Muhammad and to Islam: "I personally am more inclined to religions in which the mediator appears to be less essential or almost tuned out." (21)

But while these passages have sometimes been quoted to underscore Rilke's affinities with Islam, their apparent inconsistency with precisely the most widely accepted version of the prophet's calling has not been remarked on. For who, in terms of the major world religions, can be called a "mediator" figure, if not Muhammad himself? That is a fact of which believing Muslims are reminded daily with their credo: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." Moreover, what can Rilke be thinking of here with his portrayal of Muhammad "breaking his way through" to God--besides perhaps the well-known Goethe poem "Mahomet's Song?" (22) That runs exactly counter to the popular accounts, including, in Europe, that of Boulainvilliers, which portray the pious merchant rising uncertainly to fulfill his calling.

For a man already alienated from the message of Christianity (like the Biblical angels of the second elegy, its heyday is "long past" for Rilke), belief in the literal truth of Muhammad's calling and message--conceived, after all, as an update and correction to Christianity itself--will hardly have been the issue, however. On the other hand, Rilke's various epistolary e·pis·to·lar·y  
1. Of or associated with letters or the writing of letters.

2. Being in the form of a letter: epistolary exchanges.

 remarks on the subject of Islam, including his advice to Hulewicz, become comprehensible and compatible amongst themselves if we accept that he read the Quran not primarily as sacred history A sacred history is a retelling of history, in either a literary or oral format, with less emphasis on historical fact and more upon instilling faith, defining a group of believers, and/or explaining natural phenomenon.  but as a document of prophetic self-assertion. (And here it seems sensible to distinguish the Quranic text from the legendary tradition surrounding Muhammad's life). Thus considered, the Quran becomes for Rilke an extended "thought experiment" in which the archangel, impressively conveyed as he may be, figures not as God's creature but as Muhammad's: a kind of celestial guarantor generated by the prophet's inspiration who stands in a transparent, indeed a specular relation to him and his own concerns. (23) It is surely only from this position of rhetorical identification ("I'm reading the Quran; in places it takes on a voice for me, in which I'm immersed im·merse  
tr.v. im·mersed, im·mers·ing, im·mers·es
1. To cover completely in a liquid; submerge.

2. To baptize by submerging in water.

 with all my strength, like the wind in the organ") that Rilke can speak of a religion in which the mediator is "less essential or almost tuned out." Consistent with his presentation of the prophet's calling in "Mohammed's Summoning," the role and importance of the angel are posited here only to be made subservient sub·ser·vi·ent  
1. Subordinate in capacity or function.

2. Obsequious; servile.

3. Useful as a means or an instrument; serving to promote an end.
 to Muhammad, as he realizes his personal "breakthrough" to the divine.

Such a reading of the Quran, one focusing on its rhetorical power and power relations rather than on its literal truth claims, would certainly have been the natural one for the unbeliever, even for the respectful unbeliever that Rilke obviously represented. The non-linear construction of the Quran, already mentioned, is perhaps the first characteristic that distinguishes the Quran from (for example) the more generally continuous presentation of the Christian Gospels. But for the reader grounded primarily in Christian tradition Christian traditions are traditions of practice or belief associated with Christianity.

The term has several connected meanings. In terms of belief, traditions are generally stories or history that are or were widely accepted without being part of Christian doctrine.
, the second most striking feature of the Quran is surely the degree to which it broaches vastly different issues--ranging from thorny questions of ethics to Muhammad's problems in maintaining harmony among his wives--with no apparent sense of differentiation. All are dignified as divine revelation Noun 1. divine revelation - communication of knowledge to man by a divine or supernatural agency

making known, informing - a speech act that conveys information
. With even a little outside knowledge of Muhammad's life and circumstances, it is not hard to recognize in these surahs his own recurring preoccupations: the continuing interest of God in the welfare of widows and orphans In typesetting, widow refers to the final line of a paragraph that falls at the top the following page of text, separated from the remainder of the paragraph on the previous page. The term can also be used to refer simply to an uncomfortably short (e.g. , for example (Muhammad had himself been orphaned, his mother widowed); God's assurances that His messenger is not, in fact, a madman (Muhammad was at first accused by the Meccans of being just that); the traces of a private "anxiety of influence" that underlies the otherwise deferential deferential /def·er·en·tial/ (-en´shal) pertaining to the ductus deferens.

Of or relating to the vas deferens.


pertaining to the ductus deferens.
 references to Jesus and the other prophets. (24)

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that even those who stood closest to Muhammad, without doubting his calling exactly, on occasion recognized how related his message could appear to his own interests. The sixty-sixth surah of the Quran, entitled "Prohibition," reads as an elaborate justification of Muhammad the errant husband. "Prophet," it begins, "why do you prohibit that which God has made lawful to you, in seeking to please your wives? God is forgiving and merciful mer·ci·ful  
Full of mercy; compassionate: sought merciful treatment for the captives. See Synonyms at humane.

" (Quran 66:1). At issue was apparently a broken promise of Muhammad to one of his wives, Hafsa, to separate from a Coptic slave with whom she had found him in intimate circumstances. Hafsa had reported the incident to another wife, 'A'isha (Muhammad's favorite). The function of the surah is evidently to exhort both Hafsa and 'A'isha to repentance; otherwise divorce, the divine voice intimates, may well be imminent. (25) It was interludes like this that once reportedly prompted 'A'isha to observe drily to her husband (again the issue was wives): "Certainly God hastens to fulfill your wishes." (26)

To be sure, such inclusions do not ultimately detract from detract from
verb 1. lessen, reduce, diminish, lower, take away from, derogate, devaluate << OPPOSITE enhance

verb 2.
 the greater religious message of the Quran as inspired text, but it is only reasonable to assume that a recognition of their occasionally quite human coloration col·or·a·tion  
1. Arrangement of colors.

2. The sum of the beliefs or principles of a person, group, or institution.
 must have been fundamental to Rilke's appreciation of Muhammad and Islamic tradition. The point of comparison between the angels of the Elegies and the angels of Islam, then, remains the aggrandizement ag·gran·dize  
tr.v. ag·gran·dized, ag·gran·diz·ing, ag·gran·diz·es
1. To increase the scope of; extend.

2. To make greater in power, influence, stature, or reputation.

 of the visionary himself: for just as God, paradoxically, sends the archangel Gabriel to do Muhammad's bidding (as 'A'isha would have it), so too are the angels of the Elegies, after their impressive and intimidating introduction, retained not just to dignify dig·ni·fy  
tr.v. dig·ni·fied, dig·ni·fy·ing, dig·ni·fies
1. To confer dignity or honor on; give distinction to: dignified him with a title.

 Rilke's developing argument on the mission of the poet within the hierarchy of creation--but actually to sanctify sanc·ti·fy  
tr.v. sanc·ti·fied, sanc·ti·fy·ing, sanc·ti·fies
1. To set apart for sacred use; consecrate.

2. To make holy; purify.

 it. And as in "Mohammed's Summoning," the balance of power with respect to the angel(s) shifts here measurably, though more gradually. By the fifth elegy, the well-known meditation on the acrobats, the awed tone of the persona's initial apostrophe to the angels has given way to an imperative edge, as he pointedly enjoins an angel to "preserve" the "smile of the jumper" ("Subrisio Saltat"): "Angel! O take it, pluck pluck

1. an abattoir term for the thoracic viscera plus the liver, after separation from the esophagus and the diaphragm. Includes the larynx, trachea, lungs, heart and liver, plus the spleen in sheep.

 it, that small-petaled herb of healing!/Create a vase, preserve it!" (27) By the end of the seventh elegy, he even more boldly invites the angel to marvel at his own, just completed celebration of human experience: "Miracles! O stand in wonder, Angel, for it was us,/O great one, us, tell the others of these things "These Things" is an EP by She Wants Revenge, released in 2005 by Perfect Kiss, a subsidiary of Geffen Records. Music Video
The music video stars Shirley Manson, lead singer of the band Garbage. Track Listing
1. "These Things [Radio Edit]" - 3:17
 we added: my breath/is insufficient for such praise." (28) To be sure, there is in this deliberate graduation of poetic authority a degree of self-consciousness not similarly evident in the Quran, given the latter's inscrutability in·scru·ta·ble  
Difficult to fathom or understand; impenetrable. See Synonyms at mysterious.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin
 as spontaneously received revelation.

But notwithstanding Muhammad's (arguably ar·gu·a·ble  
1. Open to argument: an arguable question, still unresolved.

2. That can be argued plausibly; defensible in argument: three arguable points of law.
) less self-conscious relation to his own calling, Rilke would certainly have been in a position to reflect on additional parallels between the two of them if, as he penned his fervent letter from Spain in December of 1912, he thought back to the inception of his first elegy at Duino Castle earlier that year. On a given day in January, he was inspired in his receptivity by higher authority--like Muhammad on a January night--and dramatically enabled to write after a long period of incapacity The absence of legal ability, competence, or qualifications.

An individual incapacitated by infancy, for example, does not have the legal ability to enter into certain types of agreements, such as marriage or contracts.
; much as Muhammad had been empowered to read. The ensuing en·sue  
intr.v. en·sued, en·su·ing, en·sues
1. To follow as a consequence or result. See Synonyms at follow.

2. To take place subsequently.
 colloquy col·lo·quy  
n. pl. col·lo·quies
1. A conversation, especially a formal one.

2. A written dialogue.

[From Latin colloquium, conversation; see
 with the angels lasted ten years (Muhammad's revelations occurred over some twenty-three years) and put to rest Rilke's recent fears, confided in his letters to Lou Andreas-Salome, that he might have to consider changing his profession. Around the time of his breakthrough at Duino, he had written to Andreas-Salome, by now herself a student of Freud's, about the possibility of trying psychoanalysis to overcome his nervousness and general malaise:
   I know now that analysis would only make sense for me
   if the strange thought in the back of my mind--of not
   writing any more--were really serious. Then one could
   have one's demons exorcised, since they are after all only
   disturbances and embarrassments in everyday life, and if
   the angels also happened to be driven out, then one could
   see this as a simplification and tell oneself, oh well, that
   in one's next career ... they would certainly not come in
   useful anyway. (29)

As it happened, however, the angels came in quite useful in the old career, and it may serve to corroborate To support or enhance the believability of a fact or assertion by the presentation of additional information that confirms the truthfulness of the item.

The testimony of a witness is corroborated if subsequent evidence, such as a coroner's report or the testimony of other
 this general reading of Rilke's "Islam" specifications to note, finally, how directly his angels' rhetorical role in the Duino cycle develops out of the greater German elegiac tradition. To my knowledge no one has pointed out that Rilke's apostrophe in his Elegies is continuous with a rhetorical device Noun 1. rhetorical device - a use of language that creates a literary effect (but often without regard for literal significance)
rhetoric - study of the technique and rules for using language effectively (especially in public speaking)
 extending back even to the elegists of German Classicism classicism, a term that, when applied generally, means clearness, elegance, symmetry, and repose produced by attention to traditional forms. It is sometimes synonymous with excellence or artistic quality of high distinction.  (1786-1832): the appeal of a poetic persona to an ethereal ethereal /ethe·re·al/ (e-ther´e-il)
1. pertaining to, prepared with, containing, or resembling ether.

2. evanescent; delicate.

 being standing in some privileged position of authority or knowledge. In particular, one may isolate here Goethe's "Euphrosyne" (of 1797/98) and Holderlin's "Menon's Laments for Diotima" (of 1799) as two elegiac texts which certainly influenced Rilke in his composition of the Duino Elegies. (30)

A detailed thematic consideration of the individual poems is unnecessary here; for these purposes, what is striking in the comparison between them is the evidence of a diachronic di·a·chron·ic
Of or concerned with phenomena as they change through time.
 shift in the power relation underlying the apostrophe itself. In "Euphrosyne," for example, the Goethean persona becomes aware of a luminous figure as he is travelling alone in the mountains at nightfall. It is Euphrosyne, mythological myth·o·log·i·cal   also myth·o·log·ic
1. Of, relating to, or recorded in myths or mythology.

2. Fabulous; imaginary.

 transfiguration Transfiguration, in the New Testament, manifestation wherein Jesus appeared "shining" before Peter, James, and John. The traditional explanation is that in it Jesus' divine glory shone in his earthly body. Mt.  of a recently deceased friend. He addresses her, and she materializes before him to deliver a retrospective speech that stresses the immortalizing power of art and lasts for the greater part of the elegy. In a far less literal vein, Holderlin's bereaved be·reaved  
Suffering the loss of a loved one: the bereaved family.

One or those bereaved: The bereaved has entered the church.
 "Menon" also summons the spirit of a dead friend (Diotima) to reconcile his present misery with his past happiness, but her "presence" remains largely symbolic and completely subservient to his own meditation. Most abstractly of all, then, Rilke's persona posits the Duino angels not as messengers but as pure witnesses, manipulating them by sheer force of argument to ratify his own aesthetic apology. Least "human" and familiar of all ethereal authorities, they are called upon here to valorize val·or·ize  
tr.v. val·or·ized, val·or·iz·ing, val·or·iz·es
1. To establish and maintain the price of (a commodity) by governmental action.

 precisely what is most human and familiar--the proper subject of poetry as defined by Rilke and explicated most eloquently in his eighth elegy: the poet's role is to render the "things" of the human world into invisibility. (31)

The diachronic development described by these elegiac apostrophes is clear enough: following in the direction already set by Holderlin, Rilke's text virtually reverses the earlier Goethean relation of (passive, receptive) poetic persona to (active, assertive) ethereal authority. It is, of course, a direction entirely consistent with both his explicit treatment of Quranic material in "Mohammed's Summoning," and his implicit understanding of Quranic rhetoric as it is conveyed by his epistolary remarks. Telling of Rilke's spontaneous identification with a religious tradition not his own, these remarks also bespeak be·speak  
tr.v. be·spoke , be·spo·ken or be·spoke, be·speak·ing, be·speaks
1. To be or give a sign of; indicate. See Synonyms at indicate.

a. To engage, hire, or order in advance.
 a canny can·ny  
adj. can·ni·er, can·ni·est
1. Careful and shrewd, especially where one's own interests are concerned.

2. Cautious in spending money; frugal.

3. Scots
 appreciation of another "subject's" exemplary and lasting record of self-assertion: a lofty "Recitation" delivered before God and men. Their implication is thus readily brought into line with a number of modern readings of the Duino Elegies which have independently stressed the angels' purely rhetorical status and subordination to the interests of the autonomous persona: "The angel [of the Elegies] is the challenge to think, made into a figure. [A] [postulate postulate: see axiom.  [...]"; "Rilke's angels [of the Elegies] are rhetorical figures: wished-for and feared potencies of his [the poet's] own self;" (32) "Rilke's 'angel' ... is not messenger ... but sign." (33) As pure "signs," the Duino angels have their antecedents for Rilke not only in Islamic angelology, but also in his rhetorical reading of the Quran; the latter has too long been overlooked in assessing Rilke's relation to Muhammad.


(1) The English translation given is from Rainer Maria Rilke Noun 1. Rainer Maria Rilke - German poet (born in Austria) whose imagery and mystic lyricism influenced 20th-century German literature (1875-1926)
, Duino Elegies: Bilingual Edition, trans. Edward Snow (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: North Point Press, 2000), 5. All subsequent English translations from the Duino Elegies will be from this edition. The original German lines are: "Wer, wenn ich schriee, horte mich denn aus der Engel/Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nahme/einer mich plotzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem/starkeren Dasein." The German edition used here, from which all subsequent quotations will be taken, is: Rainer Maria Rilke, Duineser Elegien. Die Sonette an Orpheus (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1976). See p. 11 for the lines cited here.

(2) By the time the Duino Elegies appeared, Rilke (1875-1926) had several notable collections of poetry to his credit, in addition to a well-received novella novella: see novel.

Story with a compact and pointed plot, often realistic and satiric in tone. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, it was often based on local events; individual tales often were gathered into collections.
, The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, or Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (1906), and a ground-breaking lyrical novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, or Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). The poetry collections This is a list of poetry collections with their own Wikipedia pages. A - D
  • Book of Psalms
  • Caedmon manuscript
  • Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Cantos - Ezra Pound
  • Contention of the bards
 were The Book of Images (Das Buch der Bilder) [1902]; The Book of Hours book of hours, form of prayer book developed in the 14th cent. from the prayers of clerics appended to the main service. The subjects of the miniature illustrations (see miniature painting) were frequently derived from the appendix of the Psalter.  (Das Stundenbuch) [1905]; and his New Poems New Poems is a collection of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. He began collecting the poems in 1906, published New Poems in 1907, and in the following year published a second volume of additional poems.  and New Poems: The Other Part (Neue Gedichte and Der neuen Gedichte anderer Teil) [1907/08]. With the last-named work especially, Rilke established his mastery of the so-called "Dinggedicht" (literally, "thing-poem"), a kind of descriptive poem that attempts to capture the defining essence of a particular "thing" (person, animal, art work, mundane object, etc.) in succinct formula.

The ten Duino Elegies are less concretely conceived and less accessible, taking as their subject the individual's (read: poet's) attempt to make meaning not only of the natural world, but also of ephemeral and abstract aspects of the human life course and experience (e.g., childhood; familial and romantic love: fulfilled and unrequited; the limits of consciousness; affliction). They are constructed as a series of meditations on these discrete subjects and unified in the end by the poet's vision of his own mission. We know that a few of the Elegies were inspired by Rilke's experience of actual things or places. For example, his fifth elegy, or meditation on the acrobats, is based on Picasso's painting of a group of Paris street acrobats ("La Famille des saltimbanques"), which Rilke viewed in 1915. The difficult tenth elegy, set in part in an allegorical al·le·gor·i·cal   also al·le·gor·ic
Of, characteristic of, or containing allegory: an allegorical painting of Victory leading an army.
 "City of Pain" but incorporating references to the Nile and the Sphinx sphinx (sfĭngks), mythical beast of ancient Egypt, frequently symbolizing the pharaoh as an incarnation of the sun god Ra. The sphinx was represented in sculpture usually in a recumbent position with the head of a man and the body of a lion, , was inspired by Rilke's visit to Giza--but he was adamant in denying that any concrete connection was intended (see Note 7 below).

(3) This translation is given by Snow, vii-viii. Cf. the German original:
   Rilke stieg zu den Bastionen hinunter, die, vom Meer aus nach
   Osten und Westen gelegen, durch einen schmalen Weg am Fu[beta]e
   des Schlosses verbunden waren. Die Felsen fallen dort steil, wohl
   an 200 Fu[beta] tief, ins Meer herab. Rilke ging ganz in Gedanken
   versunken auf und ab, da die Antwort auf den Brief ihn sehr
   beschaftigte. Da, auf einmal, mitten in seinem Grubeln, blieb er
   stehen, plotzlich, denn es war ihm, als ob im Brausen des Sturmes
   eine Stimme ihm zugerufen hatte:

   "Wer, wenn ich schriee, horte mich denn aus der

   Engel Ordnungen?"....

   Er nahm sein Notizbuch, das er stets mit sich fuhrte, und schrieb
   diese Worte nieder und gleich dazu noch einige Verse, die sich
   ohue sein Dazutun formten....
   Sehr ruhig stieg er wieder in sein Zimmer hinauf, legte sein
   Notizbuch beiseite und erledigte den Geschaftsbrief.
   Am Abend war aber die ganze Elegie niedergeschrieben.

This account given in: Furstin Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe, Erinnerungen an Rainer Maria Rilke, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1966), 48-49.

(4) For the context of Rilke's remark to Hulewicz, see Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe (1950; Wiesbaden: Insel, 1980), 899 ff. Angel figures are actually plentiful in Rilke's poetry (see, for instance, the famous "L'Ange du Meridien" in his New Poems, which describes an angel on the facade of the cathedral at Chartres), but overwhelmingly, they are recognizably connected to Judeo-Christian belief. For discussions that concentrate on the figure of the angel in the Duino Elegies specifically--without, however, pursuing the "Islamic" connection--see, for example, the following: Stephen Spender Noun 1. Stephen Spender - English poet and critic (1909-1995)
Sir Stephen Harold Spender, Spender
, "Rilke and the Angels, Eliot and the Shrines," The Sewanee Review The Sewanee Review is a literary magazine and academic journal founded in 1892 and the oldest continuously published periodical of its kind in the United States. It incorporates original fiction and poetry, as well as essays, reviews, and literary criticism.  61.4 (1953): 557-81; Kathe Hamburger, Rilke: Eine Einfuhrung (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1976), 98 ff.; Ursula Franklin Ursula Martius Franklin, CC, O.Ont, Ph.D, FRSC (born September 16, 1921 in Munich, Germany) is a German-Canadian metallurgist and research physicist. She is a Quaker and is a Member of Toronto Monthly Meeting. She has also been active in promoting pacifist and feminist causes. , "The Angel in Valery and Rilke," Comparative Literature 35 (1983): 215-46; Kathleen Komar, Transcending Angels: Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies (Lincoln, Nebraska The City of Lincoln is the capital and the second most populous city of the U.S. state of Nebraska. Lincoln is also the county seat of Lancaster County and the home of the University of Nebraska. : U of Nebraska P, 1987). The ten essays in Rilke's Duino Elegies: Cambridge Readings, ed. Roger Paulin and Peter Hutchinson (London: Duckworth and Ariadne, 1996), while incisive in many respects, mention the "Islamic" connection at most glancingly. Dieter Bassermann's earlier comments on the "Islamic" aspect of the angels in Der spiite Rilke (Munich: Leibniz, 1947), 75 f., remain somewhat inconclusive.

(5) See Annemarie Schimmel, "'Ein Osten, der nie alle wird.' Rilke aus der Sicht einer Orientalistin," Rilke heute: Beziehungen und Wirkungen, ed. Ingeborg Solbrig and Joachim Storck (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), 183-206; Ingeborg Solbrig, "'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog': Zu Rilkes Gedicht Mohammeds Berufung (1907)," Modern Austrian Literature Austrian literature: see German literature.  13.3 (1980): 33-45; Ingeborg Solbrig, "Gedanken iiber literarische Anregungen zur verfremdeten Engelkonzeption des mittleren und spaten Rilke," Modern Austrian Literature 15. 3-4 (1982): 277-90. My discussion below of Rilke's affinities with Islam draws freely on the materials presented by Schimmel Schimmel is a German surname and may refer to:
  • Dr. Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003), German Islam scholar
  • Hendrik Jan Schimmel
  • Jason Schimmel
  • Michael Schimmel
  • Robert Schimmel
  • Wilhelm Schimmel, Piano manufacturer
  • William Schimmel
See also
 and especially Solbrig.

(6) Here is the English translation of that poem:
   Mohammed's Summoning

   But when the Angel--impossible
   to mistake--stepped into his hiding place,
   erect, regal, all purity and blaze:
   then he renounced all claims and pleaded

   only to be left the thing he was: a mere
   merchant, whose travels had deranged him;
   he had never learned to read--and now
   such a word--too much even for a wise man.

   But the Angel, imperious, kept thrusting
   at him what stood written on his page
   and would not hear and kept insisting: Read.

   Then he read: so deeply, that the Angel bowed.
   And was already someone who had read
   and was able and obeyed and brought to pass.

Quoted from Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems, revised bilingual edition, trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 305. Here is the original German text:
   Mohammeds Berufung

   Da aber als in sein Versteck der Hohe,
   sofort Erkennbare: der Engel, trat,
   aufrecht, der lautere und lichterlohe:
   da tat er allen Anspruch ab und bat

   bleiben zu durfen der von seinen Reisen
   innen verwirrte Kaufmann, der er war;
   er hatte nie gelesen--und nun gar
   ein solches Wort, zu viel fur einen Weisen.

   Der Engel aber, herrisch, wies und wies
   ihm, was geschrieben stand auf seinem Blatte,
   und gab nicht nach und wollte wieder: Lies.

   Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog.
   Und war schon einer, der gelesen hatte
   und konnte und gehorchte und vollzog.

Quoted from Snow, 304. Asks Solbrig, "Are we not already reminded in this poem of the elegist el·e·gist  
The composer of an elegy.

Noun 1. elegist - the author of a mournful poem lamenting the dead
poet - a writer of poems (the term is usually reserved for writers of good poetry)
 who felt himself moved by the tremendum of poetic inspiration at Duino Castle?" ("Werden wir nicht schon in diesem Gedicht an den Elegiendichter erinnert, der auf dem Schloss Duino das tremendum der dichterischen Inspiration zu fuhlen glaubte?"): Solbrig, "'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog,'" 39-40.

(7) In addition to the articles of Schimmel and Solbrig, cited above, this sum mary draws on Hans Egon Holthusen's Rainer Maria Rilke in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (1958; Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1976). Since Rilke's impressions of Giza as "translated" into his tenth elegy (see Note 2 above) reflect a Pharaonic period of history rather than an Islamic one, that particular connection is not pursued here.

(8) Solbrig identifies this as the version likely to have been used by Andreas in tutoring Rilke, noting that it was the most widely read account of Muhammad's life in Europe at the time ("Gedanken uber literarische Anregungen zur verfremdeten Engelkonzeption des mittleren und spaten Rilke," 281). She also notes that Andreas (whose area of expertise was Persia) introduced Rilke to Goethe's West-Eastern Divan (West-Ostlicher Diwan Noun 1. diwan - a Muslim council of state

privy council - an advisory council to a ruler (especially to the British Crown)

2. diwan - a collection of Persian or Arabic poems (usually by one author)
) of 1819/1827, which had itself been inspired by the Persian poet Hafiz Hafiz (häfēz`) [Arab.,=one who has memorized the Qur'an], 1319–1389?, Persian lyric poet, b. Shiraz. His original name was Shams al-Din Muhammad. He acquired the surname from having memorized the Qur'an at an early age.  ("Gedanken ...," 281).

(9) As Schimmel points out, North Africa exerted a powerful attraction on other European artists of the early twentieth century as well; in German-speaking lands, notably Paul Klee Noun 1. Paul Klee - Swiss painter influenced by Kandinsky (1879-1940)
 and August Macke August Macke (January 3, 1887 – September 26, 1914) was one of the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). He lived during a particularly innovative time for German art which saw the development of the main German Expressionist . ("'Ein Osten, der nie aile wird'. Rilke aus der Sicht einer Orientalistin," 185).

(10) In an oft-quoted letter to the Princess Matie von Thurn und Taxis written from Ronda (Dec. 17, 1912), he exults at his proximity to Gibraltar, and notes that he is tempted to travel even farther south, to Tangier. See Rilke, Briefe 380.

(11) In Rilke's published works up to 1922, there are a few scattered references to aspects of Islam or, more generally, to the world of the "Orient," but where religious references occur--as they do frequently--they are almost always to Christian and Jewish (Old Testament) belief, or to archaic (Classical) mythology. Still, we may note that the eponymous e·pon·y·mous  
Of, relating to, or constituting an eponym.

[From Greek epnumos; see eponym.
 hero of his 1906 novella, The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, is a young officer fighting in Hungary against the Turks, and that the subject of the Turkish wars is sounded again in the title of one of the New Poems soon thereafter: "The Last Count of Brederode Evades Turkish Captivity." Along with "Mohammed's Summoning," the second part of that same collection contains the poems "Persian Heliotrope heliotrope (hē`lēətrōp') [Gr.,=sun-turning] or turnsole, name for any plant that turns to face the sun, especially members of the genus Heliotropium of the family Boraginaceae. ," and--a perhaps more oblique reference to the East--"Opium Poppy opium poppy

Flowering plant (Papaver somniferum) of the family Papaveraceae, native to Turkey. Opium, morphine, codeine, and heroin are all derived from the milky fluid found in its unripe seed capsule. A common garden annual in the U.S.
," neither of these religious. Later, as Schimmel notes, the poet also beautifully, evokes the "water and roses of Isfahan or Shiraz" in his Sonnets to Orpheus of 1922 (the twenty-first sonnet) with a direct reference to Persia (Schimmel 183).

(12) Since the iconographic i·co·nog·ra·phy  
n. pl. i·co·nog·ra·phies
a. Pictorial illustration of a subject.

b. The collected representations illustrating a subject.

 traditions of the respective religions offer few clues here (aside from some obvious stylistic differences), the possibility that Rilke was influenced mainly by religious art is not pursued.

(13) Cf. the German original:
   Fruhe Gegluckte, ihr Verwohnten der Schopfung,
   Hohenzuge, morgenrotliche Grate
   aller Erschaffung,--Pollen der bluhenden Gottheit,
   Gelenke des Lichtes, Gange, Treppen, Throne,
   Raume aus Wesen, Schilde aus Wonne, Tumulte
   sturmisch entzuckten Gefuhls und plotzlich, einzeln,
   Spiegel: die die entstromte eigene Schonheit
   wiederschopfen zuruck in das eigene Antlitz. (II, 10-17)

(14) Jeder Engel ist schrecklich. Und dennoch, weh mir Mir, Soviet and Russian space station
Mir, Soviet and Russian space station: see space exploration; space station.
mir, former Russian peasant community
mir (mēr), former Russian peasant community.
, ansing ich euch, fast todliche Vogel der Seele, wissend um euch. Wohin sind die Tage Tobiae, da der Strahlendsten einer stand an der einfachen Haustur, zur Reise ein wenig verkleidet und schon nicht mehr furchtbar; (Jungling dem Jungling, wie er neugierig hinaussah). (II, 1-6)

(15) Gabriel's appearance to Muhammad in the Quran is described, for example, in the fifty-third surah called "The Star." In its second verse, Muhammad notes that his is an "inspired revelation," and that he "is taught by one [Gabriel] who is powerful and mighty." The third verse continues, "He [Gabriel] stood on the uppermost horizon; then, drawing near, he came down within two bows' length or even closer, and revealed to his servant [Muhammad] that which he revealed" (Quran LIII: 2-3). The edition used here is The Koran with a Parallel Arabic Text, trans. N. J. Dawood Nessim Joseph Dawood (Arabic,نعيم جوزيف داوود)(born 1927) in Baghdad, Iraq, to an Iraqi Jewish family. He came to England in 1945 as an Iraq State scholar, and settled there. , 5th ed. (New York: Viking, 1990), 525. In the thirty-fifth surah, "The Creator," we read, "He [God] sends forth the angels as His messengers, with two, three or four pairs of wings. He multiplies His Creatures according to His will. .." (Quran XXXV: 1 ; Dawood 433). As D. B. MacDonald notes in the article "Mala'ika" in the Encyclopaedia of Islam The Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI) is the standard encyclopaedia of the academic discipline of Islamic studies. It embraces articles on distinguished Muslims of every age and land, on tribes and dynasties, on the crafts and sciences, on political and religious , this verse significantly influenced later descriptions and pictures (Encyclopaedia of Islam CD-ROM CD-ROM: see compact disc.
 in full compact disc read-only memory

Type of computer storage medium that is read optically (e.g., by a laser).
 Edition v. 1.0. Koninldijke Brill Brill or Bril, Flemish painters, brothers.

Mattys Brill (mä`tīs), 1550–83, went to Rome early in his career and executed frescoes for Gregory XIII in the Vatican.
. 1999). For an "'angelography' culled from various Islamic sources," see also Peter Lamborn Wilson "Hakim Bey" redirects here. This article concerns Peter Lamborn Wilson, a political writer affiliated with the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. Another member of the Moorish Science Temple of America and author of the Journal of Moorish Paradigm is also named Hakim Bey. , Angels: Messengers of the Gods (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994). He describes Gabriel (Jibra'il) as having 1600 wings, hair of saffron saffron, name for a fall-flowering plant (Crocus sativus) of the family Iridaceae (iris family) and also for a dye obtained therefrom. The plant is native to Asia Minor, where for centuries it has been cultivated for its aromatic orange-yellow stigmas (see , with the sun between his eyes and hair as bright as the moon and stars, etc. (27). For Rilke, Boulainvillier's account of Muhammad's visitation--summarized in discussion following--would have been a key source in the mediation of Islamic angelography: see Solhrig, "Gedanken ..., " 282 ff. Both Solbrig and Schimmel mention Die Geisterlehre der Moslimen (The Muslims' Teachings About Spirits) by the Orientalist Josef Harnmer-Purgstall (1774-1856) as another work likely to have influenced Rilke; it contains descriptions of angels similar to those mentioned by Wilson above (Solbrig, "Gedanken ...," 285-287; Schimmel 184). Schimmel also points out that the specularity of Rilke's angels in the second elegy is reminiscent of the Persian mystic Suhrawardi Maqtul's angelology; however, she posits no direct influence (Schimmel 199).

(16) Whatever Buraq's formal status within orthodox teachings, Hammer Purgstall describes the creature as the "actual cherub cherub (chĕr`əb), plural

cherubim, kind of angel. Cherubim were probably thought of in the ancient Middle East as composite creatures like the winged creatures of Assyria. In Jewish tradition, they are described (Ezek.
 of Islam" ("der eigentliche Cherub des Islams"); see Solbrig, "Gedanken ...," 287. While Rilke's apostrophe to the angels as birds ("I sing to you, almost fatal birds of the soul") might at first be taken simply to refer to their wings in more or less conventional fashion, its effect in context is really quite different from a seemingly similar address in his poem "The Guardian Angel guardian angel

believed to protect a particular person. [Folklore: Misc.]

See : Angel

guardian angel

term for Christian namesake who watches over a young child. [Christianity: Misc.]

See : Guardianship
" ("Der Schutzenger') in The Book of Images (Das Buch der Bilder). The relevant lines there read, "You are the bird whose wings came/when I wakened in the night and called" ("Du bist der Vogel, dessen Flugel kamen,/wenn ich erwachte in der Nacht und rief')--see The Book of Images, revised bilingual ed., trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point, 1994), 32-33. The effect in these lines is to console; the effect in the second of the Duino Elegies is to confuse and alienate To voluntarily convey or transfer title to real property by gift, disposition by will or the laws of Descent and Distribution, or by sale.

For example, a seller may alienate property by transferring to a buyer a parcel of the seller's land containing a house, in
: "Who are you?" ("Wer seid ihr?") asks the persona at the end of its first strophe (II, 9; the italics here are mine).

(17) As we read in the Quran, "Recite in the name of your Lord who created--created man from clots of blood. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful Bountiful, city (1990 pop. 36,659), Davis co., N central Utah; inc. 1892. It is a residential suburb N of Salt Lake City with some farming and floral nurseries; machinery and motor vehicles are produced. Bountiful was settled by Mormons in 1847.  One, who by the pen taught man what he did not know." (Quran XCVI: 1-4; Dawood 597). The date of Muhammad's visitation is given by Boulainvilliers as January 12, 611, but other authorities are less specific. See Henri de Boulainvilliers Henri de Boulainvilliers (October 21, 1658, St. Saire, Normandy - January 23, 1722, Paris) was a French writer and historian. Educated at the college of Juilly, he served in the army until 1697. , La vie de Mohamed (1730; Westmead, Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg International Publishers Ltd., 1971), 256.

(18) See Boulainvilliers 256-58 and emile Dermenghem, Mohammed in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, trans. Marc Gillod and J.-M. Zemb (1960; Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1980), 21-23. Muhammad's revelations were initially committed to memory by his followers, and later to writing. Traditional extra-Quranic sources of information on his life are comprised by the Hadith collections, which contain reports about the normative deeds and sayings of the Prophet (including variants); and the Sira, or narrative biography.

(19) Solbrig, "'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog,'" 37.

(20) The translation and emphasis are mine. Cf. the original German:
   Ubrigens mussen Sie wissen, Furstin, ich bin seit Cordoba von einer
   beinah rabiaten Antichristlichkeit, ich lese den Koran, er nimmt
   mir, stellenweise, eine Stimme an, in der ich so mit aller Kraft
   drinnen bin, wie der Wind in der Orgel. Hier meint man in einem
   Christlichen Lande zu sein, nun auch hier ists langst uberstanden,
   christlich wars.... [W]irklich, man soll sich langer nicht an diesen
   abgesessenen Tisch setzen und die Fingerschalen, die noch
   herumstehen, fur Nahrung ausgeben. Die Frucht ist ausgesogen, da
   heissts einfach, grob gesprochen, die Schalen ausspucken. Und da
   machen Protestanten und amerikanische Christen immer noch wieder
   einen Aufguss mit diesem Teegrus, der zwei Jahrtausende gezogen hat,
   Mohammed war auf alle Falle das Nachste, wie ein Fluss durch ein
   Urgebirg, bricht er sich durch zu dem einen Gott, mit dem sich so
   grossartig reden lasst jeden Morgen, ohne das Telephon "Christus",
   in das fortwahrend hineingerufen wird: Holla, wer dort?--und niemand
   antwortet. Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe (1950; Wiesbaden:
   Insel, 1980), 379-80. Again, the emphasis is mine.

As Schimmel notes, Rilke expresses a somewhat similar thought ten years later, in his brief fictional Letter of a Young Worker (Brief eines jungen Arbeiters), when he has his young worker declare, "And once I tried the Quran, I didn't get far; but this much I understood: here again there's a kind of great finger pointing in a direction with God at the end of it, contained in His eternal ascent in an Orient that is never depleted de·plete  
tr.v. de·plet·ed, de·plet·ing, de·pletes
To decrease the fullness of; use up or empty out.

[Latin d
"--translation mine (cf.: "Und einmal habe ich den Koran versucht, ich bin nicht weit gekommen; aber so viel verstand ich: da ist wieder so ein machtiger Zeigefinger und Gott am Ende seiner seine  
A large fishing net made to hang vertically in the water by weights at the lower edge and floats at the top.

v. seined, sein·ing, seines

To fish with such a net.

 Richtung in seinem ewigen Aufgang begriffen in einem Osten, der nie alle wird"). Quoted in Schimmel 190.

(21) "Mir personlich stehen alle jene Religionen naher, in denen der Mittler weniger wesentlich oder fast ausgeschaltet erscheint." Cited in Solbrig, "'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog,'" 35; the letter is addressed to Pastor Rudolf Zimmermann and is dated January 16, 1922. The English translation is mine.

(22) Goethe's poem "Mahomets Gesang" of 1772/73, a product of the Storm and Stress movement, is the most famous tribute to Muhammad in the German language. It presents him as a spring gushing gush  
v. gushed, gush·ing, gush·es

1. To flow forth suddenly in great volume: water gushing from a hydrant.

 forth and gathering force (along with his "brother" tributaries) as he makes his way triumphantly to the sea.

(23) In his letter to Hulewicz, Rilke explains, "The angel of the elegies is that being that vouches for [our] being able to recognize a higher level of reality in [the realm of] the invisible [than in the visible]." ("Der Engel der Elegien ist dasjenige Wesen, das dafur einsteht, im Unsichtbaren einen hoheren Rang der Realitat zu erkennen.")--Briefe 900. Translation mine.

In suggesting here that Rilke intuitively understood the angels in the Quran to be Muhammad's own "creatures," I wish to distinguish this view from the position taken in the traditional Muslim philosophers' doctrine of prophecy. The latter is discussed by Fazlur Rahman Fazlur Rahman Malik (Urdu: فضل الرحمان ملک) (September 21, 1919 – July 26, 1988) was a well-known scholar of Islam; M.  in his book Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy (1958; Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979). According to Rahman, Al-Farabi, for example, argues that the "potential intellect" of a man like Muhammad, when it "becomes one with ... abstracted intelligibles and becomes actual," in turn takes on an actual existence in the world and becomes "a new part of the intelligible furniture of reality" (12). But this is possible ultimately only because the "Active Intelligence ... the last and lowest of ... ten Intelligences emanating from God ... sends out a light" to initiate the process (11-12).

(24) For textual examples of these preoccupations, see, for instance, the surah entitled "Daylight": "Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?" (Quran XCIII: 6; Dawood 596), etc.; the one entitled "The Pen": "By the Pen, and what they write, you are not mad: thanks to the favour of your Lord! A lasting recompense RECOMPENSE. A reward for services; remuneration for goods or other property.
     2. In maritime law there is a distinction between recompense and restitution. (q.v.
 awaits you, for yours is a sublime nature" (Quran LXVIII: 1; Dawood 563); and the one entitled "Ornaments of Gold": "He [Jesus] was no more than a mortal whom We favoured and made an example to the Israelites" (Quran XLIII: 59; Dawood 492).

(25) This appears on p. 559 of Dawood's translation.

(26) This story is recounted by Dermenghem 49. The whole problem of divine inspiration vs. personal motivation being discussed here is reflected in a certain disagreement among Western commentators with respect to the question: Who is speaking in the Quran? Thus the translator N. J. Dawood: "Except in the opening verses and some few passages in which the Prophet or the Angel speaks in the first person, the speaker throughout is God" (Dawood ix). But Solbrig disagrees: "The speaker is, as everywhere, the archangel Gabrier" ("Der Sprecher ist, wie uberall, der Erzengel Gabrier") ("'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog,'" 44). The most nearly Rilkean position is the third interpretation: that the voice in question is Muhammad's, the divine attribution being essentially nominal.

(27) Duino Elegies 33. Cf. the original: "Engel! o nimms, pflucks, das klein blutige Heilkraut./Schaff eine Vase, verwahrs!" (V, 59-60).

(28) Duino Elegies 55. Cf.: "War es nicht Wunder? O staune, Engel, denn wir sinds,/wir, o du Grosser, erzahls, dass wir solches vermochten, mein Atem/reicht fur die Ruhmung nicht aus" (VII, 75-77).

(29) The translation and second emphasis are mine. The German original, which follows below, is taken from Rainer Maria Rilke--Lou Andreas-Salome: Briefwechsel, ed. Ernst Pfeiffer (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1975), 252-53:
   Ich weiss jetzt, dass die Analyse fur mich nur Sinn hatte, wenn
   der merkwurdige Hintergedanke, nicht mehr zu schreiben ...
   mir wirklich ernst ware. Dann durfte man
   sich die Teufel austreiben lassen, da sie ja im Burgerlichen
   wirklich nur storen und peinlich sind, und gehen die Engel
   moglicherweise mit aus, so musste man auch das als Vereinfachung
   auffassen und sich sagen, dass sie ja in jenem neuen nachsten Beruf
   ... sicher nicht in Verwendung kamen. (Second emphasis mine).

(30) See Goethe, "Euphrosyne," in his Gedichte, ed. Erich Trunz (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1974), 190-95; and Friedrich Hoderlin, "Menons Klagen um Diotima," in his Samtliche Werke, ed. Frierdich Beissner (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1944-1962), 2: 75-79. For a more detailed discussion of Rilke's intense involvement with Goethe's poetry (especially "Euphrosyne") and Hoderlin's work in the period just prior to, and during, work on his Duino Elegies, see Theodore Ziolkowski Theodore Ziolkowski is a scholar in the fields of German studies and comparative literature. He received an A.B. from Duke University in 1951, an A.M. from Duke in 1952 and his PhD from Yale University in 1957. , The Classical German Elegy: 1750-1950 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980), 239-41. See also Ingeborg Schnack, Rainer Maria Rilke: Chronik seines Lebens und seines Werkes (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1975), 1:380 and 1: 480. In his treatment of the Duino Elegies, Ziolkowski discusses these three elegies together and posits a link among Euphrosyne, Diotima, and the female "guide" who appears in the tenth Duino elegy. This is a treatment, however, not geared to the question of apostrophe or angels, and I believe it draws the rhetorical connection among the three texts rather too narrowly.

(31) The key passage, in Snow's English translation (55, 57), is: Here is the time for the sayable, here is its home. Speak and attest....
   Praise the world to the Angel, not what's unsayable.
   You can't impress him with lofty emotions; in the cosmos
   that shapes his feeling, you're a mere novice. Therefore show him
   some simple object, formed from generation to generation
   until it's truly out own, dwelling near our hands and in our eyes.

   Tell him of things....

   Earth, isn't that what you want: to arise
   In us invisibly? Isn't it your dream
   To be invisible someday? Earth! Invisible!
   What, if not transformation, is your urgent charge?

Here is Rilke's German:
   Hier ist des Saglichen Zeit, hier seine Heimat.
   Sprich und bekenn....

   Preise dem Engel die Welt, nicht die unsagliche, ihm
   kannst du nicht grosstun mit herrlich Erfuhltem; im Weltall,
   wo er fuhlender fuhlt, bist du ein Neuling. Drum zeig
   ihm das Einfache, das, von Geschlecht zu Geschlechtern gestaltet,
   als ein Unsriges lebt, neben der Hand und im Blick.
   Sag ihm die Dinge....

   Erde, ist es nicht dies, was du willst: unsichtbar
   in uns erstehn?--Ist es dein Traum nicht,
   einmal unsichtbar zu sein?--Erde! unsichtbar!
   Was, wenn Verwandlung nicht, ist dein drangender Auftrag?
   (IX, 43-71)

In his letter to Hulewicz cited above, Rilke says of the poet's mission, "We are the bees of the invisible" ("Wir sind die Bienen des Unsichtbaren")--Briefe 898.

(32) "Der Engel [der Elegien] ist Figur gewordene Denkforderung. Postulat"; "Rilkes Engel ... sind ... rhetorische Figuren: ersehnte und gefurchtete Potenzen seiner selbst."--Simon Frank, "Uber einige Ideen aus Rilkes Duineser Elegien," Neuphilologus 16.1. (1930): 18, 27. Compare Karen Leeder, "Even Rilke's Angels are projections of the transforming poetic consciousness--although idealized i·de·al·ize  
v. i·de·al·ized, i·de·al·iz·ing, i·de·al·iz·es
1. To regard as ideal.

2. To make or envision as ideal.

 ones," Rilke's Duino Elegies: Cambridge Readings, ed. Roger Paulin and Peter Hutchinson (London: Duckworth and Ariadne, 2000), 169.

(33) "Rilkes 'Engel' ... ist nicht Bote ... sondem Zeichen." Solbrig, "'Da las er: so, dass sich der Engel bog," 40. While it does not specifically address the problem of the Duino angels, Paul de Man's treatment of Rilkean rhetoric in Allegories of Reading: Figural fig·ur·al  
Of, consisting of, or forming a pictorial composition of human or animal figures.

figur·al·ly adv.

 Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust (New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many : Yale UP, 1979) is generally suggestive for out discussion, particularly his focus on the figure of chiasmus chi·as·mus  
n. pl. chi·as·mi
A rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel structures, as in "Each throat/Was parched, and glazed each eye" Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
. See De Man 20-56.
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Title Annotation:Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
Author:Campbell, Karen J.
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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