A favorite Rilke poem:
O tell us, poet, what you do. –I praise.
Yes, but the deadly and the monstrous phase,
how do you take it, how resist? –I praise.
But the anonymous, the nameless maze,
how summon it, how call it, poet? –I praise.
What right is yours, in all these varied ways,
under a thousand masks yet true? –I praise.
And why do stillnesss and the roaring blaze,
both star and storm acknowledge you? –because I praise.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote some uncannily moving poems. The Duino Elegies are perhaps the greatest for meditative study, but he also wrote some hit singles like the gem above. It’s a vindication of the task of poetry, with an interrogator asking a sharp series of questions, to which the poet always gives the same, simple answer. “Ich rühme,” he says in Rilke’s original German, “I praise” or “I celebrate.” It’s interesting that the skeptic is so searching and eloquent in line after line, and the poet just stonewalls.