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Into the storm winds

[ by Charles Cameron — Peter Thiel, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the importance of unheard voices ]

Noting Peter Thiel‘s comment below, I was reminded of the opening of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies — Himalayas of the human spirit.

SPEC DQ Thiel Rilke


Stephen Mitchell‘s version of the Elegies is the one I like best, and lends itself well to the speaking voice. Mitchell’s opening lines read thus:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.


My own version, which I’ve placed in the lower panel of the DoubleQuote above, alludes to Rilke’s storm-driven physical environment at the time the beginning of the poem came to him at Schloss Buino. In the words of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis:

Rilke climbed down to the bastions which, jutting to the east and west, were connected to the foot of the castle by a narrow path along the cliffs. These cliffs fall steeply, for about two hundred feet, into the sea. Rilke paced back and forth, deep in thought, since the reply to the letter so concerned him. Then, all at once, in the midst of his brooding, he halted suddenly, for it seemed to him that in the raging of the storm a voice bad called to him: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” (Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?)… He took out his notebook, which he always carried with him, and wrote down these words, together with a few lines that formed themselves without his intervention … Very calmly he climbed back up to his room, set his notebook aside, and replied to the difficult letter. By that evening the entire elegy had been written down.

In that instant, as I understand the matter, Rilke shouts into the wind, into the heedless world, into the angelic immensity..


Whether it’s a still small voice that goes unheard, a voice hurled into the tumultuous storm, heedless void, or transcomprehensible angelic choirs, or a voice crying from desert or wilderness, it is always the unattended, the unlistened voice which carries the note unnoticed — the truth we’d find in the blindspot if we took it for a mirror, the seed and germination of those so-often catastrophic unanticipated consequences that trend-based analysis and front-view vision so regularly miss.

4 Responses to “Into the storm winds”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    How can you tell if a leader is listening to real “still small voices” that are really minatory warnings of real dangers, and not some auditory hallucination only he can hear? Waiting for convincing levels of gross variables everyone can see may mean waiting too long. Leaders have to act on intuition, which means sometimes they will be wrong. And the problem will be defined as the process, which always counsels delay and more data, and a virtually motionless OODA cycle, which means failure with even more certainty. Clausewitz’s implicit and impossible admonitions come to mind: Be a genius! Possess all political and military authority in a unitary actor! Act on flashes of insight informed by history, but not pedantically so! The would-be political reformer, as Thiel seems to be, has a long and hard struggle ahead of him, trying to deflect the immense hurtling mass of his country a few minutes of arc off its current course. He knows it should swerve, but getting to deflect off course to any measurable degree seems impossible. At least the poet, if he shouts amidst the storm and is unheard, can later, at his desk, with the gale thudding ineffectually against the window, with a warmly crackling fireplace close by, turn the event into a poem that may outlast even the greatest military and political victories.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Mike:
    Von Clausewitz, whom I know only through my jackdaw-like propensity for fine quotations, in fact writes:

    It is not genius which reveals to me suddenly and secretly what I should do in circumstances unexpected by others; it is thought and meditation.

    His method here is not unlike that of the poet — Rilke too no doubt prepared by “thought and meditation” for those “few lines that formed themselves without his intervention” on that occasion at Schloss Duino.
    As for making the distinction between the authentic “still small voice” and auditory hallucinations — I’d suggest that it is the practice of meditative and contemplative silence that allows many a hidden thought to arise, be checked, and dissipate its emotion on the way to a kind of developed and habitual clarity, in which the still, small voice is apprehended.
    To my way of thinking, that’s the ultimate purpose of all forms of sabbath.

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    “… the practice of meditative and contemplative silence …”
    Very difficult to achieve this.
    Meditation and internal silence as a preface to prayer, a practice I have tried with mostly failure, for many years.
    The noise that generates internally replaces the external din seamlessly.
    Still, better to persevere … .

  4. Walter Says:

    I used that Rilke quote, which I probably learned from you, to open my essay on cyberspace – to express how scary the depths of cyberspace are. And the archetypes that rule if. Archetypes of Cyberspace is on kindle.

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