RILKE SINGER OF HADES
WHO WAS RILKE?
Given the wisdom and insight attributed to Rilke’s verse, the title of this feature may seem controversial. It will only be fully apparent in its Part Two just what I am aiming to say, which is something I do in the wake of absorbing a large, ground breaking and fairly recent study of Rilke, In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke, a Soul Journey (2011). Here I am just briefly introducing a person and setting the scene in a way which hopefully makes things clearer around an increasingly popular and influential figure but who by general consent nonetheless remains somewhat elusive.
In outer Tahiti my plans for a short epic on the divine nature (plans which I have not abandoned) didn’t get much further than reading up on elements of modern spirituality and the poet Rilke. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is generally considered to be the greatest German language poet of the twentieth century by birth; he was however an Austrian born in Czech speaking Prague. His beliefs or unbeliefs around God have been seminal in contemporary spirituality if not modern poetry which as T.S.Eliot complained inclines to the secular and unspiritual). He increasingly enjoys an almost scriptural and guru status – just how much you can tell from works like Stephanie Dowrick’s In the Company of Rilke and Anita Barrows’ reverent introduction to her and Joanna Macy’s translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours. The latter is the poet’s early, most accessible and popular collection of verse which nonetheless doesn’t reach the dramatic heights of the celebrated Duino Elegies. The latter especially have something about them that strikes one as equivalent to Picasso and Stravinsky in art and music.
The more New Age side of Rilke’s reputation is akin to that of Khalil Gibran – likewise a Sagittarian. We may well ask quite where the message and appeal of the poet’s sometimes difficult output resides and there are things about this and the meaning of Rilke for contemporary religion and art I shall need to examine. In Part One however I will keep mainly to interesting and descriptive features of his birth pattern that may later be seen to help explain the poet who in his inwardness, contradictions and essential self has been called impenetrable and hard for biographers to capture, starting with the fact that asteroid Poesia closely conjuncts the poet’s Midheaven of destiny, reputation and career.
Rilke’s feeling he was born for and destined for poetry alone – he disliked to take on any work without some literary connection – seems eminently justified or at least well reflected in this signature topping the natus. Despite the philosophical tone and the messages readers try to tease out of his work, plainly Rilke was more poet than philosopher. Apart from the inclusion of some basic philosophy in his university studies and some obvious identification with elements of German philosophical Idealism, Rilke in the role of prophet may be said on principle to have relied upon his own vision to supply ideas. It’s a position reflected in the way Philosophia in intuitional Scorpio stands in his third house of writing in opposition to Pluto in the ninth of philosophy and higher education, (a position also suggestive of various Rilkean ideas of God sought for and perhaps found in darkness and God as a Being to be challenged, opposed, reformed and even made by us).
Likewise clearly justified by the natal pattern is the poet’s belief that the sculptor Rodin, with whom at one time he lived in Paris as part secretary and biographer, was crucially influential for a major stage of his development, specifically the New Poems of 1908. These show a stress upon art, objects and scenes in which Rilke will evoke epiphanies. Rodin holds a dominating position at 18 Gemini in Rilke’s house of destiny and career from where it directly aspects an innovation favourable Uranus in the 12th house of the unconscious – the improbable influence went deep – and makes fortunate trine to Saturn. For Rilke, Rodin suitably taught him about the role of work in the production of art!’. The New Poems which emerged under Rodin’s influence got called “makings”. However this “work” would be only a pause amid the more essential prophesying.
Rilke was born in Prague at 11.50pm on the 3rd December 1875. This supplies him a birth pattern with a sun in free-wheeling Sagittarius. The overall pattern is nonetheless shaped by and subordinated to 15 Virgo rising and then 11 Gemini at the destiny Midheaven. (This combination happens to interest me personally as a writer, including of poetry, born with 16 Virgo rising and 11 Gemini at the Midheaven and also like Rilke with Mercury and Jupiter in the 3rd house of writing. I will be putting out a poem here in September which is curiously if unintenionally Rilkean. I set out aiming for something in the style of early Goethe and his Prometheus, but despite everything the material swerved towards the Rilkean, at any rate in style). For any writing, perhaps especially poetry where style and beauty are traditional concerns, it’s always helpful to have Mercury and Venus in close contact. Rilke shows Mercury at 29 Scorpio (conjunct his Part of Revelation and he was a poet so often writing as though to reveal something in the style of a prophet or mystic!), Venus at 29 Sagittarius, Orpheus his alter ego, as per the collelction Sonnets to Orpheus, at 29 Capricorn while his Mars was at 28 of original, independent Aquarius. It’s quite a line-up.
But these late degrees tell us something – 29 degrees of anything is “anaretic” and inclines to insatiability. With especially Venus at 29 of playful, free spirited Sagittarius, Rilke couldn’t have enough of women – he was a bit of a Don Juan and could scarcely write anything without either a woman, whether married or single, as patron, muse or guide of some sort. His first major involvement was with the married Lou Andreas-Salome, whose influence upon him would be lifelong for all of religion, poetry and psychology (she was an early Freudian). Rilke’s wife, the artist Clara Westhof along with his daughter Ruth scarcely mattered to him. He did little to support them (a packet of oats was notoriously a birthday present to his wife!), spent very little time in their company – in the last month of his life he even declared he wouldn’t let his wife cross the threshold to visit – while he went travelling, text book Sagittarian style, from place to place. He kept moving variously in search of truth, experience, renewal of his sometimes precarious health and sometimes the work and patronage which as he grew older engaged the support of notable aristocrats like Maria von Turn und Taxis. It was at her castle of Duino overlooking the Adriatic that Rilke underwent the inspiration for the Duino Elegies.
One could say that like many Don Juans Rilke was seeking for, or seeking to replace, images of the mother. Undeniably his moon in independent Aquarius in the fifth sector of any romances, is suggestively degree exact conjunct Eros. But that same Eros fed soul life as he understood it and was essential to spirituality of his kind signalled by the way that joined on the same degree as moon and Eros was the Part of Soul.. At the same time, the fact that in a chart with Venus on an anaretic degree and the moon in the romance house opposed to Uranus, a factor which can be separative, there tends to be an association of love with simply leave-taking and non-attachment. Cold Saturn conjuncting the moon from just inside the sixth house of health is involved not just with the heart break cavalierly caused to many a woman but Rilke’s frequent illnesses, some genuine but many just neurotic. The conjunction also bespeaks his means, from childhood and in relation to his mother, of gaining love and attention on his own terms.
The peculiar nature of the poet’s marital tie which endured despite everything, is reflected in the way asteroid Clara conjuncts one end of the connective nodal axis in the first house from where it opposes the nodes in the seventh house of unions. However and almost amusingly for a poet who as in the Elegies could write things like “What if not transformation, is your insistent commission?/ Earth, dear one (du liebe), I will!” Rilke’s real and permanent love was precisely the earth itself. Asteroid Erde (Earth) is conjunct to three minutes of a degree of exactitude with the descendant, the cusp of the house of unions. And then, even his inspirational and original Uranus is conjuncted by Gaea (i.e. Gaia, symbol of earth).
Amid his travels Rilke nonetheless considered the Russia to which Lou Salome had introduced him his true (spiritual) home. His first seriously successful collection of verse, The Book of Hours of 1905 with its main voice a heretical icon painting Russian monk, is witness to this genuine obsession with Russia, its people, art and even landscape. We duly find asteroid Russia in the fourth house of “home” and origins (Rilke liked to claim Slavic forebears which is doubtful) in direct aspect to form-giving Saturn and in affliction aspect to Rilke’s native Austria (to which Prague belonged at the time of his birth) and which meant so little to him. A connection of Russia with at any rate art and love (the connection with Lou Salome) is exquisitely described by a north/south Venus IC (i.e “home” line) through Russia and near Moscow. ‘
Rilke was an only child, at once pampered and dominated by a well connected, hyper-religious and eccentric mother. This is duly reflected in eccentric Uranus opposite Moon (the mother) in eccentric Aquarius conjunct Saturn, (restriction and convention). Sophie Rilke selfishly raised her son in his early years dressed as a girl to overcome her grief at losing a daughter. The experience, paralleled by a distant father who separated from his wife when Rilke was nine, nonetheless in no wise influenced her son’s sexuality. Instead by his late teens and after “the hell” of a military academy to which his parents so inappropriately sent him, he did reject his mother’s crucifix kissing super-religiosity for atheism. This phase was however of relatively short duration as Rilke was too spiritual and imaginative for it and Sagittarius, a “mutable” sign, is anyway a great changer of beliefs and opinions.
INVENTING A SPIRITUALITY
Rilke’s rejection of Christ, Christianity and all organized religion was nonetheless radical and enduring. Accordingly we should note certain strong religious factors in the natus, though not without first and more generally noting that Uranus in the hidden twelfth sector colours a lot of the Rilkean spirituality by which readers are either entranced or repelled when not simply baffled. Uranus here marks a dependence upon and invitation to pure receptivity and to sudden, surprising intuitions from the realms of the unconscious. This Uranus would seem to belong to the poet’s notion as described in his Letters to a Young Poet, of a pure inspiration which borders on automatic writing – despite his scepticism he did sometimes attend séances! – or virtual shamanism. Especially the Sonnets to Orpheus were experienced as though a dictation given at abnormal speed. The first three of the Duino Elegies came in a flash one day walking down steps in front of Duino Castle and the final Elegies then had to wait a whole decade for another rush of inspiration to get completed.
The little known but psychologically important and early composed Visions of Christ plainly define Rilke as non or anti Christian. Rilke’s belief was that Christ was arrogant to have portrayed himself as in any sense divine or in any kind of mediating position vis-à-vis God. Suitably the asteroid Christian – yet another late degree factor at the malefic 29 Pisces! – squares the poet’s artistic Venus at 29 Sagittarius, possibly hinting (though it’s not usually acknowledged) that Christianity was less a purely philosophical encumbrance than a social inconvenience to the Don Juan side of Rilke who envisages a purely human Jesus who gets the Magdalene pregnant.
The more ideological aspect of Christ rejection is reflected in the way Isa (Ar. Jesus) in the seventh sector (unions) is closely opposite the poet’s ascendant marking Jesus out as someone liable to be seen as the close companion (which during the school period he somewhat was) to open enemy, while Jupiter (beliefs, religious and philosophical issues) opposite Pluto (the God planet) in the 9th of religion and square Saturn marks out a stressed, struggling and problematic relation to the divine. (Indeed one could add that Rilke’s almost 20 degree Leo Uranus and his 20 Aquarius Saturn fall across Christ’s MC/IC axis as surely as did the Satanist Aleister Crowley which might be said to confirm the picture another way). However Orpheus at 29.56 Capricorn conjunct asteroid Theotes (Godhead), one of the two God planets and itself placed at 1.5 of unusual Aquarius, is testimony to the ideas and mood of the late Rilke of Sonnets to Orpheus (1922). In these Orpheus has himself become God or the voice of God. The other God asteroid, Bhagwat (Lord) squares Rilke’s sun from 9 Pisces again betraying certain tensions around God and, given the degree of association of Pisces with myth, probably relevant to the production of Rilke’s prose collection, Stories of God (1899).
I shall look at the meaning and message of Rilke in another feature having outlined these astrological basics to which I shall only add we find similarly significant God issues expressed through poetry in the work of the privately often God hating Sagittarian Emily Dickinson in America and the often enough profane Heinrich Heine in Germany, the Jew become Christian turned agnostic who like Rilke seemed to be another poet needing much attention from women for the inspiration to flow. (Neither poet had Rilke’s Virgo rising – it is believed Emily had Scorpio and Heine had Gemini rising at birth). Rilke’s nearest philosophical affinity is with yet another Sagittarian, Spinoza, whose desire for absolute unity and certain spiritual abstractions he somewhat shares.
I find considerable significance in the close conjunction of Rilke’s sun with his fourth house cusp of home and endings. I shall only mention that by tradition the emphasis on fire and Sagittarius placed here could point to such as burial in a high place; and valid or not, Rilke certainly lived and was buried in the mountains in the Valais district of Switzerland where he had spent his final years. But Rilke also died of leukaemia which he experienced as being burned alive, so it was as though his end was fiery.
The Part of Death itself in fiery Aries exactly trines the Nadir (point of endings) from the eighth house of death and in view of what I shall have to say about Rilke and Hades, I would note that the hypothetical planet Hades (in effect a point in the heavens) makes exact aspect to the Nadir from 11 Aquarius. Was Rilke most essentially the singer of Hades? Does he anticipate certain notions of death and the beyond? These are the kind of questions I shall ask in the next part.