Books and Me
Seas of Snow Paperback Launch
Extremely delighted to be hosting the guest post on my Books and Me blog today on the Blog Tour to celebrate the paperback launch of this stunning book.
Over to you Kerensa.........
First of all, thank you so much for having me and for inviting me to share an extract from the works of Rainer Maria Rilke and to talk about my responses to it. It’s such a pleasure to do this for you and I am thrilled you so kindly joined the #SeasOfSnow paperback launch blogtour!
The protagonist in SEAS OF SNOW is called Gracie Scott. We meet her when she is just five years old, and learn how Uncle Joe appears in her life, changing it forever. Through the book, she discovers a passion for both playtime and poetry as a means to escape her traumas and torments. She delights in the words and sounds of poetry and stories to liberate her – even for a moment – from the darkness of her life.
A kindly English teacher introduces Gracie to poetry so she gets to dip her toes into its delights slowly and carefully… and we get to experience poetry through the eyes of a child, making it less intimidating and difficult.
Mr Hall tells Gracie:
‘Poetry is the most marvellous Secret Key to escaping real life and disappearing into a world of your own. It’s your very own Castle of Make-Believe.’
‘I’m not sure I understand, sir . . .’
‘Well, Gracie, the clever thing about poetry is that each and every person will read a poem in their own way, bringing with them their own experiences and perceptions and opinions and prejudices. Each and every person will see different things in different ways. An interpretation of understanding here, a shade of emotion there. And the layers! You would be amazed all the hidden layers there are in poetry – but unlike in maths, there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer. All that matters is how it makes you feel, and what it makes you think.
‘There are word patterns and sounds; clever loops and references and what we call sonic echoes, where the sounds words and syllables make reflect each other and echo each other. Some people will spot some things, other people will spot others. Some people will hear things, some people won’t. That’s the beauty of it, Gracie.’
There follows a passage where they talk about a poem he introduces her to. By the end of that chapter, Mr Hall concludes:
'Poetry, if you let it, will help you make sense of the world. It can be your solace and your friend, even in the loneliest of times. Your escape. Your Secret Key.’
And with that, Gracie becomes hooked.
A bit about Rilke
The extract I have chosen to share with you today is from Rainer Maria Rilke's 'Letters to a Young Poet'. It becomes incredibly important to Gracie as her story unfolds. The book itself is a very slim volume of correspondence, written by a somewhat obscure Austro-Bohemian poet many people will never have heard of. Rilke wrote in German, and the letters were penned over several years when he was still of very tender age himself, but cast in the role of counsel and elder.
Rilke (1875-1926) was one of the most extraordinary poets that has ever lived, known for his lyricism and inspirational philosophies about life. The Letters are beautifully written words of hope, enlightenment and succour. They hold you by the hand, catch you when you fall, and lull you into self-belief where none existed before.
There are only ten letters in this small book, so you can just read one before bed time, or with a cup of teain between chores, or in your lunchbreak.
Rilke wrote them over a period of five years to a young man called Franz Kappus who was just nineteen years old and about to enter the German military. Kappus wrote to Rilke, who was then only 27 years old, shyly sharing some of his poetry and seeking guidance in life and asking Rilke to critique his literary work.
The Letters are written in prose but with a lilting lyricism that dances the words off the page in melodies and word pictures. They are so beautifully crafted I would categorise them as prose poems. Their power whisks you away, makes you think, and helps you calm.
Some people accuse Rilke of being overly sentimental, and maybe the fact I love him so much says something about me…. but I just swim in his soothing tones and feel my pain and trouble slowly ebb away.
One critic has described the Letters as “a virtual owner's manual on what it is (and what is required) to be an artist and a person.” I would say they provide a guiding light when times feel bleak and particularly those occasions when you feel you don’t know where to turn.
My chosen extract
A poetic passage from Rilke's Letters becomes the talisman of Gracie’s life. It's a prose poem that offers comfort, kindness and safety. All the things Gracie craves and yearns for. You can either read it here, or listen to this beautifully voiced version on YouTube
How should we be able to forget those ancient myths
That are at the beginning of all peoples.
The myths about dragons
That at the last moment turn into princesses.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
Who are only wanting to see us
Once beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being
Something helpless, that wants help from us.
So you must not be frightened
If a sadness rises up before you
Larger than any you have ever seen.
If a restiveness like light and cloud shadows
Passes over your hands and over all you do
You must think that something is happening with you,
That life has not forgotten you.
That it holds you in its hand.
It will not let you fall.
There is a kindliness and a confidence in this poem that I simply love. You get the impression a very wise and lovely soul is sharing some thoughtful advice with you. The words themselves are overwhelmingly warm and protecting. The assurance and certainty of the speaker/writer quite literally holds you by the hand and lets you know that life has not forgotten you, it will not let you fall.
We are each and every one of us frightened of things sometimes. It might be the fear of illness, of a person, of a situation. Life hurtles challenges and difficulties towards us, relentlessly. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming.
And sometimes, we can question ourselves, doubt ourselves. It is so easy to assume we are in the wrong, that we are at fault. These beautiful words by Rilke seek to offer us some comfort… and to try to help us open our eyes to see the good and light in people and situations.
Now, you can argue that adopting a Pollyanna approach to life can be naïve and simplistic. I would tend to agree. But wouldn’t the world be a lovelier, more pleasant, kinder place if we did each seek to see the best in others, and if we did try our best to see things from others’ perspectives, even those who might appear to be our dragons. Even our Uncle Joes, perhaps.
I first discovered the works of Rilke as a student. I absolutely loved his choice of words, the music and melody of his cadences. I have later read some exquisite translations of his work. Even in English you can sense the purity and the beauty of the writing.
As the extract we are talking about here is a translation from the German, I shan’t critique in this post the lyricism and cadences of the phrases or talk in depth about the rhythms and metaphors that Rilke uses. I think this particular translation feels very true to the original in both music and concept, which is why I selected it. You can find alternative translations online if you feel like digging a little. This is the one which, to me, best reflects the words Rilke wrote. For anyone interested in the original, I thought it would be nice to reprint it here. You can see in the original it is very much in letter form, and there is even a reference to the recipient by name (lieber Herr Kappus = dear Mr Kappus), which gets removed in translations so the words speak to a broader human truth.
Wie sollten wir jener alten Mythen vergessen können, die am Anfange aller Völker stehen, der Mythen von den Drachen, die sich im äußersten Augenblick in Prinzessinnen verwandeln; vielleicht sind alle Drachen unseres Lebens Prinzessinnen, die nur darauf warten, uns einmal schön und mutig zu sehen. Vielleicht ist alles Schreckliche im tiefsten Grunde das Hilflose, das von uns Hilfe will.
Da dürfen Sie, lieber Herr Kappus, nicht erschrecken, wenn eine Traurigkeit vor Ihnen sich aufhebt, so groß, wie Sie noch keine gesehen haben; wenn eine Unruhe, wie Licht und Wolkenschatten, über Ihre Hände geht und über all Ihr Tun. Sie müssen denken, daß etwas an Ihnen geschieht, daß das Leben Sie nicht vergessen hat, daß es Sie in der Hand hält; es wird Sie nicht fallen lassen
I have come back to Rilke time and time again throughout my life. I find his words give me that little lift I need sometimes, when navigating challenges and heartache. One way of describing it is to say I use Rilke as self-help. It really works! I'd recommend 'Letters to a Young Poet' to anyone going through troubled times or feeling anxiety, a lack of self-belief, or fear of the unknown. From matters of the heart to family and career... Rilke has some inspirational words to lift and inspire you.
Amazon UK - £9.99
Book Depository - £8.32