Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rilke On the Flesh

It's February 1, which means we are only two months away from the start of a new edition of The Tattooed Poets Project, and I have begun assembling the first posts for this annual extravaganza.

What better way to acknowledge this looming event, but to post a poetic tattoo?

The following piece is one that I spotted at the end of last summer on Penn Plaza. Belonging to a young lady named Rosa, it has been one of my few remaining 2010 leftovers:



What I noticed first was not that this was a line of verse, but that it was placed on the body in an unusual way. Most lines of poetry, when manifested on flesh, are on the arms and wrist, or the lower legs and occasionally a back. This tattoo runs from the front of to her back, vertically climbing and descending from her shoulder.

The line is in German, and represents a piece from Rainier Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies.

Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich

Or, in context:
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
Hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

 Those are the opening lines of the first elegy, translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Rosa didn't give me much insight as to why she had the line tattooed, but it is quite a powerful statement.

When I asked her who the artists was, she replied only that it was someone in Brooklyn that went under the name "The Milk Maid". This sounded familiar at the time, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Of course, I came to be reminded that The Milk Maid is the moniker of Joy Rumore, at Twelve 28 Tattoo, quite a wonderful artist, whose work has appeared previously on Tattoosday here.

Thanks to Rosa for sharing this lovely line of verse with us here on Tattoosday!

1 comment:

Lauren Anne said...

Isn't it the last line of that paragraph, not the opening?