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Old 09-08-2018, 11:45 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Michael, the plural "sie" would seem to refer to mouths rather than to the singular sarcophagus that has been described, but for the poem to make sense, I think the real question is not "Who will use the destroying mouths someday?" but "Who will find a use for the sarcophagi/selves once they have been emptied?" The title of the poem is plural, so even though one sarcophagus has been described, I think the readers are to take it as a metaphor for all of them/us.

Susan
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  #12  
Old 09-08-2018, 12:00 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Hi Susan. What's going on with the sarcophagi here? They are being used - or reused - in some way? I'm really struggling with what that might be at the moment, and it's getting in the way of my appreciation of the poem.

Brave of you - or anyone - to take Rilke on!

Cheers

David
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Old 09-08-2018, 12:57 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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David, Rilke had witnessed the re-use of Roman sarcophagi in palatial Italian homes, usually as a fountain receptacle in a garden or courtyard. Many of the sarcophagi are beautifully carved with scenes from Roman mythology or Christian stories. In ancient Roman times, cemeteries had to be located outside of cities, so the ornate sarcophagi would originally have lined the roads leading from the city in all directions. Rich people of later times would just appropriate them and haul them to their homes as decoration.

Susan
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Old 09-08-2018, 05:52 PM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Susan, that is a wonderful biographical and historical note. If you are planning a book, as I hope you are, you must include that as a note...

M
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Old 09-09-2018, 02:36 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Ah, okay. That helps, I think. Thank you.

David
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Old 09-10-2018, 02:10 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Actually, I found this elsewhere. I think it's very helpful - if it's right ...

Two pieces of information are crucial to a proper understanding of this poem. First, the word “sarcophagus” comes from two words in the ancient Greek that together mean “flesh eater.” As the Oxford Universal Dictionary (3d ed.) notes, “sarcophagus” originally referred to a kind of stone that was supposed to devour decaying flesh. Eventually, it came to refer to coffins made from this stone. Second, in the years preceding the publication of New Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke made several visits to Italy. Always attentive to the historical and cultural details of the places he visited, Rilke at one point discovered, as Robert Bly explains in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1981), that “In the middle ages, Italian farmers would knock the ends out [of the sarcophagi] and line them up so that they became irrigation canals, carrying water from field to field.” Between these two pieces of knowledge, Rilke will weave his poem.
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Old 09-10-2018, 03:06 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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David, I'm sure that Rilke knew that "sarcophagus" means "flesh-eater," since he is punning on that sense in his references to the self-consuming clothing and the body that dissolved. However, I definitely do not think that he wants us to picture the ornate sarcophagi as defaced parts of an irrigation channel. His focus on the beauty of the container filled with reflecting, shimmering water surely is alluding to the ornamental reuse of the containers as fountain basins in the stately homes.

Susan
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