Rainer Maria Rilke was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist (1875 -1926). I have just finished reading Geschichten vom Lieben Gott (Stories of God, more literal (but probably less English): Stories of Dear God), a book of prose.

Although it was written in the early twentieth century (1900 to be exact) it is not dated at all, having none of the stifness that often comes with books of this age. The stories Rilke tells are sometimes fairytale like, sometimes less so, but they are always showing a lot of insight in humanity and society. The structure of the book is such that the narrator tells his stories to a second person, a neighbor, a friend. This second person is then supposed to pass the stories on to “the children”. The children love these stories, but the narrator is not very good with children, and uses a go between for this purpose. This structure gives the book a quasi-naive charm that is in stark contrast with the subject matter and makes it even more interesting. The attention to detail, the way in which the listener to the story is described is striking.

Rilke_Gott
The German edition of the book is part of the Gutenberg Project and can thus, being copyright free, be downloaded as e-book (choose from different file-formats) for free. This is a link to the download-page. There exist several English language translations, one as recent as 2013, they should be available in bookstores.

Rilke_Poet
Some sound advice from Mr. Rilke (not from this book):

Leben Sie jetzt die Fragen,
vielleicht leben Sie dan allmählich,
ohne es zu bemerken,
eines fernen Tages in die Antwort hinein.

Which would in English be something like:

Live the question now,
perhaps in due time,
without noticing,
you will live into the answer.

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It has been some time since I wrote something on this blog. Lately I have been reading a lot of Dutch and Flemish writers, books from the 60s and 70s. A lot of these do not exist in translation, so this makes it difficult to write about them on an English language blog. Some of these books were however so impressive I do not want to keep them from you. At the bottom of this blog-entry I have translated an excerpt from a story for you. So here goes.

Roger van de Velde (Boom 13 February 1925 – Antwerp 30 May 1970) was a Flemish writer and journalist. During his lifetime 3 collections of stories were published:   Galgenaas (“Gallows Bird”,  1966),  De Slaapkamer (“The Bedroom”, 1967),  De Knetterende Schedels (“The Crackling Skulls”,  1969) and an essay: Recht op Antwoord (“The Right to an Answer”,  1969). In the semi-autobiographical books Galgenaas and Recht Op Antwoord he writes about his experiences with justice,  prison and  psychiatry.

Since no work of Roger van de Velde seems to have been translated into English (at least I could not find any) I endeavored to translate a bit myself.

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In the title story of the collection of stories “The Bedroom” from 1967, a younger sister can no longer resist her curiosity and jealousy and enters the locked bedroom of her married older sister and her husband. The way in which the excitement of this break-in is described and the contempt the younger sister feels for the husband is tangible. The prose is at the same time elaborate and concise. Many words flow, but none of them seem superfluous.

Here follows an excerpt from THE BEDROOM;

Elvire always locked the door of the bedroom when she left the house, but she didn’t know the key to the bathroom fitted the same lock.
Or maybe she did know?
Maybe the locking of her bedroom was an automatic and symbolic and almost ritual gesture, with which she safely and carefully and even a bit defyingly encapsulated herself from the hardly disguised, sideways looking immodesty of the two others, who no longer were an active part of her new world. From the concerned, unspoken questions of her selfish mother, who silently and somberly watched the alienation as a malevolent festering of her flesh. From the unlimited, childish fantasies of her younger sister, Lucie, who in her stupid innocence continually bounced across the borders of decent discretion. From the everywhere in the house lurking, unfulfilled and arduously restrained curiosity, which often annoyed her, and sometimes too, why not admit it, excited her. Just as physical pleasure is sometimes paired with a sensation of skin crawling.
The closing of that door was no doubt partly provocation.

…..

He wasn’t even a shadow in this room, Elvire’s old room.
This unexpected discovery filled Lucie with jubilant joy for she suddenly knew why her sister locked the door so carefully each time. She locked the room to anxiously hide from the others that she was married to a shadow. To a robe, a pajama and an ashtray.
Lucie was taken by surprise to such an extend that she did not hear the front door close. Only when a dry cough behind her back made her grow numb, she became aware of the calamity at hand. Knees buckling she turned and the shock protruded from her eyes. In the door opening of the bedroom was Hugo. He was very pale. It was understandable he was pale. He came home because he felt unwell at work. It was undoubtedly the stomach, or the liver. He felt so indisposed and unwell he did not even wonder what Lucie was doing in the bedroom. He looked at her helplessly, stretched across the bed groaning, and belched noisily. The room was filled with his miserable presence.

THE END

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