The Rarity of the Gesture of Small Flowers



Rilke’s demand that the aspiring poet “know the gesture of small flowers” implies a gentle, Kantian knowing. Analogous to the kinship that Elaine Scarry finds between rarity and mental images, I find a kinship between the gesture of flowers and the gesturing of poems. A poem gestures rather than means or represents; it does not produce knowledge. It is a shade, an intimation, a resonance. As Alain Badiou writes in terms that echo both Kant and the subtractions of rarity: “at the farthest remove from knowledge, the poem is exemplarily a thought that is obtained in the retreat, or the defection, of everything that supports the faculty to know.” If such a poem gestures rather than means, it requires not interpretation but attention.


Open Window Small Flower Great Patience Romantic Idealism Mute Fate 
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  1. 1.
    Georg Büchner, “Lenz” in Werke und Briefe (München: dtv, 1969), 72.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Adam Zagajewski, “Introduction: Rereading Rilke” in The Poetry of Rilke, trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 2009), xix.Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    Gerald L. Bruns, Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 96.Google Scholar

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© Harold Schweizer 2016

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