“Divine Siegecraft: A Short Talk on Similarities in Rilke & Carson’s Treatment of God & Walls” by Danielle Rose

Rilke’s “Du, Nachbar Gott, wenn ich ditch manchesmal” and Anne Carson’s “My Religion” are both poems about god and walls. Both poems are also violent. They are perhaps violent especially because they are poems about god and walls, because when god is behind a wall bringing down the wall becomes an act of human imperative. The walls have further similarities: they are both thin, they both inspire violence and they both concern themselves with the transmission of image. Ultimately what is most intriguing is that both Rilke and Carson were afraid.

 The two poets have their differences. Rainer Maria Rilke, born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke in 1875’s Prague, was a transitional figure in poetry representing a mystical transition straddling the Romantic to Modernist periods like a rickety bridge that enjoyed wobbling in a slight wind. Anne Carson is a classicist who at one time lived in Canada and may still (I do not know.) Rilke is dead. Carson is very living.

When Carson describes how humans interpret the gestures of god, she compares them to

“[…]a creature
let loose in a room
and battering
to get out.”
Meanwhile, Rilke desires a more kind, permissible, escape, admitting “Always I hearken. Give but a small sign. / I am quite near.” Carson is rude. Rilke is polite. Both are disquieted by their experiences concerning walls and god. And both turn to violence as a means to disrupt their religious disquiet. At the end of “My Religion” the worship is revealed to be an instrument of violence, literally, “It batters my soul / with its rifle butt.”  Even our realization of folly is experienced as an act of violence, by the 4th line Carson admits her own inevitability toward violence: “When we see / how simple it would have been / we will thrash ourselves.” Carson turns to violence when faced with god. She is flamboyant in her violence. Rilke drags under the weight of his small violences. He is a humble in how he handles the violence enacted upon himself. I cannot imagine what sublimation of the self this must have required, to become such a nothingness from such a someness. This is because of a wall, and the violence required to bring that wall down. Rilke is reserved in his violence, turning it upon himself,

“And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.”
This is how a person becomes a home for bruises. Rilke gives up, and directs himself to suffer. Carson lashes out. Neither is happy. Both are left abandoned and  discomforted.Neither believes they have the ability to not. They are unaware they could ever not be afraid.


Danielle Rose lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their two cats. She is a poet and the managing editor of Dovecote Magazine. She also used to be a boy.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso.