Rilke’s Duino Elegies

Frankie (who helped me with the filming at the arts centre) commented that he was reminded of Rilke’s elegy referencing Picasso’s Les Saltimbanques… so I looked it up. This is the fifth elegy, the last six lines are relevant…

But who are they, tell me, these Travellers, even more
transient than we are ourselves, urgently, from their earliest days,
wrung out for whom – to please whom,
by a never-satisfied will? Yet it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, and swings them,
throws them, and catches them again: as if from oiled
more slippery air, so they land
on the threadbare carpet, worn by their continual
leaping, this carpet
lost in the universe.
Stuck on like a plaster, as if the suburban
sky had wounded the earth there.

This elegy is founded on Rilke’s knowledge of Picasso’s painting Les Saltimbanques


(he lived, from June to October 1915, in the house where the original hung, in Munich). Picasso depicts a family of travelling acrobats. Rilke was familiar with such people from his stay in Paris, where he became Rodin’s secretary.

I love the idea that the performers could be healing the earth (or healing themselves or anyone watching) where they dance. I’d like to think the white plastic sheet I put down to project onto equates to Rilkes threadbare carpet and has similarly therapeutic properties.

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