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Thoughts on “The Angels” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Gustave Dore – artist

They all have weary mouths,
bright souls without a seam.
And a yearning (as for sin)
often haunts their dream.

They wander, each and each alike,
in God’s garden silently,
as many, many intervals
in his might and melody.

Only when they spread their wings
they awaken a great wind through the land:
as though with his broad sculptor-hands
God was turning
the leaves of the dark book of the Beginning.

(translation by C. F. MacIntyre)

I read this poem a couple times and struggled with it. There is a tension here that is tangible but not easy to identify. I did a little research online about Rilke’s ideas concerning angels, and he would go into deeper exploration of the topic in his Duino Elegies.

Throughout the Duino Elegies, Rilke explores themes of “the limitations and insufficiency of the human condition and fractured human consciousness … mankind’s loneliness, the perfection of the angels, life and death, love and lovers, and the task of the poet”. Philosopher Martin Heidegger remarked that “the long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically”, and that Rilke “comes to realize the destitution of the time more clearly. The time remains destitute not only because God is dead, but because mortals are hardly aware and capable even of their own mortality.” Rilke explores the nature of mankind’s contact with beauty, and its transience, noting that humanity is forever only getting a brief, momentary glimpse of an inconceivable beauty and that it is terrifying.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So Rilke appears to be grappling with the contrast between the fragmented human condition and our divine nature as manifested in angelic beings. What is particularly interesting in “The Angels” is that the angels appear sad and lost, just as humans are. Additionally, within each angel is the possibility of sin. It is like every angel recognizes that it has the potential to follow the same path as Lucifer.

Like humans, the angels in Rilke’s poem wander aimlessly, lost and searching for meaning in a reality void of meaning.

Finally, we have the image of an angel taking flight, which causes a “great wind through the land.” This image conjures the myth of Icarus, who tried to escape the world but flew too close to the sun. Do the angels also long to escape from their limited existence, to ascend to new heights? In doing so, are they destined to fall, like Lucifer? Are we as humans, trapped in our reality, fettered to this broken world, and if we attempt to transcend, do we have that brief moment of exaltation before we crash into oblivion?

This poem leaves me with more questions than answers, but that is good. It is important to ponder questions about our existence and our place in the universe, and this poem succeeds in eliciting the deep questions which all of us should be asking.

I hope you enjoyed the poem and my thoughts about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Lady Mechanika: Vol.1

I was introduced to Lady Mechanika at a Free Comic Day event, where I received a free copy of one of the issues. I liked it, and then when I went to the Silicon Valley Comic Con, I met one of the writers and talked with her for a while, and became sold. I bought Volume 3 from her and she signed it for me. Which brings me to now, having just finished the first volume.

The graphic novel is lavish steampunk, and the title character is a smart and strong woman who is part human, part machine. In addition to the stunning art work, the writing is also excellent, augmenting the illustrations to drive the narrative of the story.

Anyway, I figured I would share a couple of quotes that I found interesting.

Our minds have mechanisms designed to protect us from those unbearable realities that life may at times lay upon us. When faced with horrors that threaten to shred our sanity, our minds defend us. Transporting us to a sanctuary within. A safe haven where nothing and no one can ever touch us.

As I read this, I considered the mind as a programmable machine. We feed in information, and that gets processed and generates usable data that allows us to navigate our world in what we deem to be the best and most advantageous manner. This may or may not be true. The human mind is so complex, and this analogy does not factor in collective consciousness, which is something I strongly believe in, but it is an idea worth at least entertaining.

People tend to fear that which they do not understand. This is a truth I have always known. At least for as long as I can remember, since I cannot recall a time before I was made into this unnatural form. They fear all who are different. Anyone who looks different, or acts different, or thinks different. All are ostracized and ridiculed… if not outright killed.

There is so much that one can say about this. Clearly, racism and xenophobia are just the tip of the “fear of the other” iceberg. There is also fear of those who have different political ideas, fear of those who may be sick, fear of those who threaten our established beliefs. So much of our society is driven by fear, and the flames of fear are stoked by a media that stands to profit from keeping people afraid. But for me, though, the most interesting line in this passage is “… I cannot recall a time before I was made into this unnatural form.” The more I contemplated this line, the more I began to envision our human form as our unnatural form. I truly believe that we are spiritual entities, embodied within these human forms. Is this temporal mass of flesh our true form, or is our real form something that we have forgotten, something we will recall once we pierce the veil? Again, a profound question that warrants contemplation.

To sum up, this is a fun, exciting, and stimulating read. I will definitely read more Mechanika, but I might hold off a bit until this virus thing passes. I really prefer to buy my books at a brick and mortar store, as opposed to the online monolith.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe, and keep reading cool stuff.

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“Sonnet 37: As a decrepit father takes delight” by William Shakespeare

Painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
And by a part of all thy glory live.
Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:
This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

In this sonnet, Shakespeare is comparing the adoration he feels toward the fair youth to the love an aging father feels toward his children. As a father who has passed middle age, it is this feeling to which I relate.

When I look at my kids, or talk with them on the phone, I catch aspects of myself reflected in them. As a parent, I have tried to impart only the better parts of myself, but I also see my shortcomings. I guess it’s a package deal. We try to share our experiences, strengths, and hopes, but inadvertently, we also share our fears, flaws, and sufferings. Essentially, we share our lives.

When I see my children happy, the feeling of joy that wells within me is something that is beyond my normal happiness. It is like a geyser of euphoria erupting from my soul. Conversely, when I see my children sad or in pain, the anguish I feel knows no depth. I suspect any parent reading this can relate.

These uncertain times are making me appreciate what is truly important in my life, the relationships to people I love. I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope you and your family are all safe and healthy.

Many blessings.

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The Last God: Book 1 of the Fellspyre Chronicles – Chapter Five

I’ve been reading this arc since its inception and have been enjoying it, even though I have not written about any of the previous issues. It is a great graphic fantasy, reminiscent of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. The artwork is intricate and stunning, and the writing is fantastic.

As with most stories in this genre, it is about a quest to defeat a dark force, but what is cool about this is that there are parallel stories/quests unfolding at the same time, one in the “present” and another mirror quest from the past. The dual storylines work well, almost like a double helix, each one twining around the other and adding depth. As each tale unfurls, it adds to the other. As such, it is a complex tale and not one that is easily tackled in a short blog post, hence if you are a fan of the genre, I would just encourage you to check it out for yourself.

I will share a short quote from this issue, though, because it struck a chord in me.

All musics are magic. Some more so than others, though.

Music for me is unique among the arts because of its ability to communicate directly to the spirit, which is why music has been incorporated into rituals as long as people have practiced them. Whether it is shamanic drumming, Gregorian chants, ecstatic dance, or any of the other myriad forms of spiritual music, tones and rhythms have aided humans in shifting their states of consciousness and thereby snatching glimpses of the Divine.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep making time to read in these strange days.

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RIP Neil Peart

Sad to hear of the passing of Neil Peart, the great drummer from Rush. Here’s a link to my ticket stub from the first time I saw them.

Rush 3/10/1979

Thanks for all the great music!

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RIP Ginger Baker

I read this morning that the legendary drummer Ginger Baker passed away. Some years back, I went to a drum clinic featuring Ginger Baker, where I heard him perform, met him afterwards, and got him to autograph my ticket stub.

Here’s a link to my other blog, The Stub Collection, and my memories of meeting Mr. Baker along with my signed ticket stub. Rock on!

The Stub Collection — Ginger Baker: 10/23/1989

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RIP Ric Ocasek

I was sad to read about the passing of The Cars’ frontman Ric Ocasek. He was a great musician. I was glad I got to see him in the 1980’s. Here is a link to my ticket stub and memories from that concert:

The Cars: 10/24/1987

Thanks Ric, and RIP.

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New Site Navigation Page!!

So I know what you’ve been thinking: Jeff has a lot of content here. How does one even begin to figure out what books and poems have been covered in the over 1000 posts?

Well fear not. I have just completed Phase 1 of my site navigation project.

Phase 1 includes a full list of all books, poems, stories, and essays that I have explored on Stuff Jeff Reads. Everything is alphabetized by author’s last name, and for long works like Infinite Jest, there are multiple links to all the associated posts.

Click here to check out the list of authors and works!

Phase 2 is under way, and will focus on comics and graphic novels. I hope to have that completed by the end of the year.

Feel free to share your thoughts. Cheers, and enjoy the holidays.

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“The Sporto: Tales from the Rock Mecca of South Florida” by C. Rich

So I discovered this book by chance while doing some online research for information about the Hollywood Sportatorium, nicknamed The Sporto. My other blog, The Stub Collection, is where I post scanned images of my old concert ticket stubs, along with my memories of the shows. Having grown up in South Florida in the 70s and 80s, I ended up seeing quite a few great shows at the Sporto, including Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters, Elton John, Roger Waters, Robert Plant, The Firm (w Jimmy Page), Deep Purple, Yes, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath with Van Halen, just to name a few.

So as I was looking for quotes and images relating to the Sportatorium, I discovered this book, and my interest was piqued. I shared the info with some of my friends, a few of whom were quicker to acquire and read the book than I was. I was promptly informed that the book was terrible. My friend Miriam told me not to waste my money and that she would send me her copy (which she did). My friend Jim said the writing was so bad it was like reading a 5th grader’s book report. These critiques were pretty harsh. Yet, when the package from Miriam arrived, I was compelled to read the book. I have to say, this is one of the worst books I have ever read, even worse than Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac (which I hated). Thankfully, the book is very short (less than 100 pages) with large font, so it was essentially like reading a long magazine article.

Rather than focusing on the negative, which would be easy, I figured I would say what I did like about the book, and that was the nostalgia. Having lived in South Florida, and knowing the types of people who frequented the infamous Sporto, I could relate to some of Rich’s musings. The crappy acoustics, the god-awful traffic, the riots, the indulgence, all of the things that made rock and roll what it was in those years of decadence. For someone who never experienced a concert at the Sportatorium, this book would be a complete waste, but for those of us who have memories of the venue, there will be fragments that will cause you to nod your head and say, “Oh yeah, I remember that.”

The problem with living in a world where anyone can publish a book is that, well, anyone can publish a book. For those of you thinking about self-publication, I would offer a word of advice—hire an editor. You will avoid obvious grammatical problems, typos, and incorrect information. And let’s face it, even T.S. Eliot benefitted from Ezra Pound’s editorial expertise.

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Changes to my Other Blog

So for those of you who do not know, I have another blog called The Stub Collection that features concert ticket stubs I collected from shows over the years. Since I now have about 175 concert ticket stubs and memories up there, I have added a new page that lists the concerts in chronological order. Check it out, and feel free to let me know which year seems like the best for live music (note — there are still MANY more stubs coming, so check back).

Here is the new page:

Stubs by Date

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