Today was “Take Your Kid to Work Day,” and since having Fiona sit there watching me type my novel or some blog posts seemed pretty darn boring, we decided to take a field trip instead.
I knew that the poet Rainer Maria Rilke had spent time writing in Switzerland, and after a little research, discovered he finished his Duino Elegies in a rented stone tower in Veyras, a village in the canton of Valais, not far from Sierre. I’m always up for a literary pilgrimage, and anyway it seemed better than sitting at home. It was about a 2-hour train ride, and we soon left the fog of Lac Leman behind for clear skies.
The most important poet writing in German in the first half of the twentieth century, many Americans know Rilke for Letters to a Young Poet. But Duino is his masterpiece, a meditation on death, the joys and sorrows of life, and the strange facts of consciousness. He spent ten years–from 1912 to 1922–writing the ten intense elegies. He began work at a castle on the Adriatic, Duino, which gave the book its name. World War I interrupted things, and then after a flurry of writing in February 1922, it was finally finished. Rilke was an intense person, not easy to live with, and craved his solitude.
He found it at the stone “castle” known as Château du Muzet, which is really no more than a large house. The day was brilliant, and some golden leaves remained on the trees. The house is privately owned, so there’s no having a look inside. There’s also a Rilke museum in the town of Sierre, but it was closed for the winter.
We had a look, took pictures, and enjoyed a picnic in the autumn sun. And we brought back this story, which was what Rilke insisted one goes to the mountains for:
After all, isn’t what the wanderer brings back
from the mountain slopes to the valley
not a handful of earth that no one could say
but rather a word, hard-won, pure,
the yellow and blue gentian?