An Essay on Gentleness
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This is a book of meditative reading. Each of the sixty-one aphoristic entries aims to interpret Rilke’s poetry as a musician might play Debussy’s Clair de lune, to transpose into the key of language the song, the melody, and the refrain of Rilke’s gentle disposition: his recognition of the transience of things; his acknowledgment of the vulnerability and fragility of people, animals, and flowers; his empathy toward those who suffer.
The cut flowers gently laid out on the garden table "recovering from their death already begun" in one of The Sonnets to Orpheus form a thread now visible now faint through most of this book. And because of the flowers, the concept of gentleness forms another thread, and because of gentleness, hands—agents of gentleness throughout Rilke’s poetry—enfold these pages. The German word leise (gentle, tender, quiet) weaves the first thread; the second is woven by flowers, then by girls’ hands, then by angels, the beloved, the poor, the dying and the dead, animals, birds, dogs, fountains, things, vanishings. The purpose of this essay is to experience and to examine gentleness, how it shapes and pervades Rilke’s work, how his poetry might gently inspire us to become more gentle people.
Harold Schweizer received his Ph.D. from the University of Zürich, Switzerland. He is Professor of English Emeritus at Bucknell University where he taught poetry, literary theory, and Holocaust studies for 32 years. His other books with Routledge are On Waiting (2008) and On Lingering and Literature (2021). Recipient of two excellence in teaching awards, Schweizer is a widely published poet and literary critic.