At the Musée Rodin
Rodin makes waves of feeling pulse through bronze. Despair and grief edge out - as these feelings do - in throbs. Love on the other hand, slides like water, fissured with light. There's the unpeeled face of parting, which dissolves both masks and heavier emotions. There is the vulnerability of carrying burdens, the weight, exhaustion, determination – and our understanding of it oh yes, we know this feeling perhaps better than any other for it lingers and sweeps a wide space around it, just as someone's hair can fly out and touch you, evoke memories – love, loss, joy – in that briefest of moments, that spills a bag of memories onto the ground, which you are still gathering long after the head that carries the long hair has disappeared into another room, laughing with her companion.
"from this body and from the object which it touches or seizes something new originates, a new thing that has no name and belongs to no one."
From Rilke's Sur Rodin
(You can read the lengthy quote this brief one is taken from, at The Alchemist's Pillow).
There is the movement, not contained within the metal, but given life by it. In Rodin's garden one of the group of the Burghers of Calais has her head in her hands, her face half covered as she is looking down. As I stand a little way back from it, a woman goes up close, almost needing to stand underneath the sculpted figure, to glimpse the expression on the bronze features. To see more clearly she puts her hands up to her head, to keep her hair away from her eyes, so nothing would obscure her view. For a few seconds the two of them – living woman and bronze sculpture – hold almost the same pose – the bronze woman looking down, the living one looking up.
Rilke spent time here early in the last century, when he worked for Rodin, and wrote his book Sur Rodin. I was hoping to find Rilke in the garden but there were far too many people there, for the poet who talks so eloquently of the need for solitude. Possibly he spends the summer months at the castle Duino near Trieste, where he wrote his Duino Elegies, preferring the lonely cliff tops. Maybe in the winter he visits this garden, where he used to spend time, when working for Rodin. Yet I have the feeling that even then, he would rather be taking the solitary paths by the Adriatic, where he would look down on the sea.
Rilke as Pierre Assouline says, was the authentic wanderer, clearly needing that kind of freedom. In our age this can be viewed as slightly perverse, not in the usual mould of life, disquieting to those who flourish on the accumulation of fixity as if it was a virtuous endeavour. Challenged perhaps by a difference in behaviour, feeling its lightness and freedom cast a shadow on them, there's a suggestion that such a way of life however raw, painful or real it is to those that live it, does not face up to things, 'escapes' from things [what things might these be?] and generally wriggles out of the kind of suit they wear, heavy, cumbersome, restricting.
But Rilke had indeed made something of himself – he turned himself into what life is made from and made for – the honey tastes, the experience of beyondness – beyond the daily, the quotidien, beyond even, what we mean by self – glimpses into the ineffable, delirious with what we've tasted – and passed on. We are the bees of the invisible, Rilke said – we gather collect and offer nectar – in words perhaps, in colours, and in bronze.
Rodin created his wandering in a different way. He wrestled his form of vision into a different cast of honey – but it is all honey, one shade or another, one comb, one weave one whisper scent or note of music – or another. Rodin too moved from one love to another. Yet his behaviour as far as I know, was not seen as reprehensible as he had a 'stable family life'. The restless man with no home of his own is seen as much more suspect. And I wonder why.