Capri: the Song of the Sea

Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘literary history’s high priest of metaphysics, a writer of breathtaking letters, and a wise advisor of the young‘ stayed on Capri, the Isle of Sirens, at Villa Discopoli during the winters of 1907 and 1908.

Initially he wasn’t impressed writing to his wife:

‘I am always rather depressed in such displays of landscapes before this clear, prized, unassailable beauty’ and later ‘here both people and landscape are united in a boring measure of cheap rapture’.

A turning point came in early 1907 as this article explains:

‘Rilke has hiked up to Anacapri and on to the western point, Migliera, where there is a formidable view over sea and landscape…From now on he began to ‘discover’ Anacapri: over to Migliera and up along Monte Solaro above Anacapri he roams an ‘archaic’ landscape with a view over a ‘Greek’ sea, where he imagines that Odysseus once had himself tied to the mast so he could hear the song of the Sirens’.

Around the same time, he wrote again to his wife describing the ‘deep, glittering blue‘ of the sea at Capri and that it was ‘warm and full and mild and lined with the sea wind as with silk‘.  It inspired this well-known Rilke poem:

SONG OF THE SEA

Timeless sea breezes,
sea-wind of the night:
you come for no one;
if someone should wake,
he must be prepared
how to survive you.

Timeless sea breezes,
that for aeons have
blown ancient rocks,
you are purest space
coming from afar…

Oh, how a fruit-bearing
fig tree feels your coming
high up in the moonlight.

Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems, 1907.  Image of Migliera via Capri.net.

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