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Friday, 17 October 2014

Rainer Maria Rilke: Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes -- she was already lost


The daughter of an Ebola victim grieves, Monrovia, Liberia
: photo by Marcos DiPaola / Nur Photo / Rex  via The Guardian, 16 October 2014

Sie war schon aufgelöst wie langes Haar
und hingegeben wie gefallner Regen
und ausgeteilt wie hundertfacher Vorrat.

Sie war schon Wurzel.
Und als plötzlich jäh
der Gott sie anhielt und mit Schmerz im Ausruf
die Worte sprach: Er hat sich umgewendet -,
begriff sie nichts und sagte leise: Wer?

Fern aber, dunkel vor dem klaren Ausgang,
stand irgend jemand, dessen Angesicht
nicht zu erkennen war. Er stand und sah,
wie auf dem Streifen eines Wiesenpfades
mit trauervollem Blick der Gott der Botschaft
sich schweigend wandte, der Gestalt zu folgen,
die schon zurückging dieses selben Weges
den Schritt beschränkt von langen Leichenbändern,
unsicher, sanft und ohne Ungeduld.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926): Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes, 1904, aus Neue Gedichte (1907) 

Exposure risks

A patient with symptoms would face these screening questions:

1. Have you been to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Nigeria?2. Have you had contact with blood, or body fluids of a person suspected of having Ebola?3. Have you had direct contact with bats, rodents or primates from West Africa?Above, Mercy Kennedy, 9, cries Oct. 2, a day after her mother died of Ebola. She was among a cluster of residents in Monrovia, Liberia, that included Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man admitted to a Dallas as the first Ebola case in the United States. Photo: Jerome Delay, . / AP

Mercy Kennedy, 9, cries, a day after her mother died of Ebola. She was among a cluster of residents in Monrovia, Liberia, that included Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man admitted to a Dallas as the first Ebola case in the United States
: photo by Jerome Delay / Associated Press, 2 October 2014

Ebola outbreak in Liberia

 Mercy Kennedy, 9, cries as she learns her mother has died, outside her home in Monrovia, Liberia. Kennedy's mother was taken away by an ambulance to an Ebola ward the day before: photo by Jerome Delay / Associated Press, 2 October 2014

The shoes of a suspected Ebola patient are seen after being cordoned off with stones by local residents in Freetown, Sierra Leone: photo by Michael Duff / Associated Press, 24 September 2014

Monrovia, Liberia. A woman throws a handful of soil towards the body of her sister as Ebola burial team members take her for cremation: photo by John Moore/Getty Images via the Guardian, 13 October 2014

She was already loosened like long hair,
poured out like fallen rain,
shared like a limitless supply.

She was already root.

And when, abruptly,
the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,
with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around--, 
she could not understand, and softly answered

                Far away,
dark before the shining exit-gates,
someone or other stood, whose features were
unrecognizable. He stood and saw
how, on the strip of road among the meadows,
with a mournful look, the god of messages
silently turned to follow the small figure
already walking back along the path,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926): from Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes, 1904, in New Poems (1907), translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell 

Ebola curfew
A police officer patrols an empty street in Freetown during a three-day, nationwide curfew in Sierra Leone. Health workers were going door to door, educating about Ebola and looking for patients: photo by Tanya Bindra / European Pressphoto Agency, 27 September 2014

 Bystanders listen to a street preacher calling on people to raise their hands and "Wave Ebola Bye Bye" in Monrovia, Liberia: photo by Jerome Delay / Associated Press, 27 September 2014

Doctors Without Borders staff wearing protective suits burn waste at the organization's  Donka Ebola management centre in Conakry, Guinea. Waste material is incinerated every night to prevent infection, since no object that cannot be chlorinated is allowed to leave the medical facility's high risk zone. Conakry, the first major city to be affected by the Ebola outbreak, is currently seeing a massive spike in cases. Doctors Without Borders says it is now caring for more than 120 patients in its two facilities in Guinea. The Donka Ebola management centre, situated inside the Ministry of Health hospital complex in Conakry, has been particularly badly affected. The facility admitted 22 patients in one day (6 October), 18 of them coming from the Coyah region, 50 kilometres east of Conakry.: photo by Julien Rey / Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, 9 October 1014

  Member of a Red Cross burial team, Monrovia, Liberia: photo by Marcos DiPaola / Nur Photo / Rex  via The Guardian, 16 October 2014


Anonymous said...

Rilke´s metaphors are amazing....always thoughtful in a simple sublte way

Lally said...

my father lost a baby sister to the Influenza epidemic of 1918, the deadliest health epidemic in history or so I've those days they tried to quarantine patients and sometimes entire families but no hazmet suits etc. and of course it was transmitted much more easily and indirectly than Ebola. If the latter ever reaches the proportions of the 1918 deadly flu outbreak worldwide the media panic in the USA will finally be justified I suppose, but for now it's the few countries in Africa that are facing that kind of catastrophic outbreak, but even there it doesn't yet equal history's deadliest epidemics...

Anonymous said...

...and it was so appropriate to use those pictures with that poem...thoughtful indeed !

TC said...

Many thanks Sandra and Michael.

The combination of media attention, attempted medical intervention, and generalized social anxiety which has characterized the American "response" to this epidemic aside, I think it's fairly safe to say that, even if -- as we've been repeatedly assured by the alleged wise heads of science that it would, it "stops there" (and signs are that it hasn't, and won't) -- very many people in west Africa are now, have been, or have cause to fear to soon be in danger for their lives from its inexorable advance. That's a lot of people, and an amount of suffering one can't easily reckon. The unfathomable and the incalculable are problematic zones in which to stumble when equipped with nothing better than an opinion. Not that this has in any way mitigated the free, full and (as always with our wizard social media) often foolish flow of opinion. Apologies in order, then -- we here must now confess to a total lack of useful opinion on this worried subject. Compassion of course being a feeling, or a quality of action, not an opinion.

Propinquity to the passage from Rilke's poem seemed to say at least as much about the astonishing photos here as your humble host could manage; not of course, again, to propose a poem as challenge to the "experts" -- but, somewhat less recklessly, to afford it approximately equal claim to authority on the immediate subject at hand. (That is, none.) But then, poetry probably has a better way of concealing its opinions under its wing or its bush or its cloud... and sometimes, thanks be to the gods, doesn't even know when it's having them. (Those are the best poetry opinions, wouldn't you agree?)

And as I've anyway suggested, I find the photographic evidence at once quite informative and totally wrenching.

The heroic relief work of MSF in particular takes one's breath away. Five hundred international workers right there in the middle of things, up to their eyeballs in it all, absolutely essential labour -- and, if I have this right, so far only two cases of the dread virus confirmed among the workers. Giving one to believe that the "protocols" can, indeed, actually help, if sensibly understood and observed.

TC said...

And by the way, as I've latterly concluded it's a mistake to put up any photo of which the source and derivation and circumstances are incompletely grasped, I've tried to follow down the stories behind the photos -- or, conversely, to discover the photos that make the stories real.

This was specifically the case with the dazed, disconsolate little girl in torn nightgown and flip-flops in the second and third photos, Mercy Kennedy, made motherless by the disease, and at the point when these photos were taken, ostracized in her own community, perhaps understandably but none the less cruelly -- every aspect of the decision-making regarding procedures of triage and quarantine necessarily being made as the situation unfolds, and overwhelms... or not.

Nine-year-old Mercy's mother had helped to wash the clothes of an ailing pregnant neighbor woman, 19-year-old Marthalene Williams, and had touched her body after she died at home when no hospital could find space for her.

Another neighbor, Thomas Eric Duncan, had rushed to help Williams when she began convulsing days after complaining of stomach pain. Evidently it was assumed her illness was related to her being seven months pregnant.

When no ambulance came, Duncan, the sick young woman's parents and several others lifted her into a taxi; Duncan rode in the front seat as the taxi brought her to the hospital, where she later died.

Within the next few weeks, as Marthalene Williams' aunt, who had lived next door, collapsed and quickly succumbed, and the disease swept through the neighborhood, all those who had assisted the terminally ill woman were afflicted with Ebola, as she had been. Her wake was attended by at least 100 people; inevitably, many of the grieving mourners touched the body.

"We had a lot of people come from a great distance to sympathize with her family," said a member of the local anti-Ebola task force. "She had a lot of friends."

And so it came to pass that the virus escaped west Africa.

erin said...

i am struck very deeply. "wrenched" is just a beginning to the feeling. what might anyone say to such grief? and who wouldn't be moved to hold that young girl, to perhaps once again breach the boundaries of this horrific affliction.

rilke? rilke who i love. i can not hear him just now. i can only imagine the waves of grief experienced and it is deafening.

let the world be in a panic (now!) and to respond from this reasonable place for each loss, whether in Africa or in the U.S. or otherwise, is our own.

TC said...


Lord knows what dear sensitive Rilke would have done. Probably nothing very useful.

I suppose that like you, my first and probably only impulse would have been to attempt to comfort, touch, in some way console or address but anyway not ignore that girl as though she didn't exist.

Krista Larson, who wrote up the story for AP, added this detail which I didn't have the heart to report. The terrible truth. The scene around Mercy Kennedy at the time the photos were taken:

"'We love you so dearly, yeah' one man wearing rubber gloves told her from a safe distance. 'We want to take care of you. Have you been playing with your friends here?'

"With Mercy's mother dead, neighbors fear it is only a matter of time before she, too, shows signs of the virus, and they want to know which other children may have come into contact with her while she was fetching water."

So it seems a matter of heart and instincts versus intelligence and common sense, there on the ground, where mistakes are not forgiven.

So much for the situation in Africa. But once it was traveling the world, you had to know Texas was only going to be the first stop for that brainless, wormy little package of trouble.

One look around, and it had to feel right at home -- or maybe more like, home-away-from-home.

Texas, epicenter of Freedom, right?

Rub up against a little of that wormy circumstance, and what do you feel like doing?

Just chill, y'all.

Jump on a plane. Jump on a cruise ship.

Belize confirms patient with Ebola symptoms on cruise ship off its coast (17 October)

The Carnival Magic (suddenly become a Ship of Fools) next tried to offload the contagion tourists at Cozumel... and Mexico said, Guess what, No thanks.

Next stop, Galveston... maybe.

The cruise line is meanwhile helpfully offering passengers a 50% refund on the aborted nine-day cruise, plus a certificate worth $200 against the cost of a ticket on a cruise to ... like, Dubrovnik, y'all.

And meanwhile, moving right along... there's the diverting this-just-in item re. the Total Spectrum lobbyist woman who got back from Africa in time to blow chunk all over the Pentagon parking lot... but not to worry, she was only getting on that bus to the Marine Corps ceremony (with Defense Sec. Hagel due to speak) in order to... you guessed it... use the bathroom.

And that's what you've got to call an abundance of caution.

Anonymous said...

Tom, do you know if I can find that piece in spanish?

TC said...


I've spent the past few hours looking for a Spanish translation, and while I'm sure such translation(s) must exist, I'm sorry to have to report that my search came up empty.

Qué lástima!

Mose23 said...

"uncertain" "without impatience"

The flurry of negatives in the last line make her more of a ghost. The afflicted, touched by a God's hand, held off at the peripheries...

So the virus spreads through Africa as we drop bombs in Syria; it's nice to be clear about priorities.

TC said...

Well... a brief meditative hobble along the bleak autumnal shores of the freeway feeder with cane and prehistoric walkman radio (the next smartphone) caught me up on "reality" as all too usual.

The talk show politics level understanding of all this is typically dismaying: all O'B's fault; he planned it & c. Same old trailer park peckerwood xenophobic/racist lynch mob regular-Joe shoot-first-ask-questions-later "opinions", one can almost see the cloven hooves peeping out from under the discount white sheets.

The myth however is colour blind.

Black Orpheus #12
Black Orpheus #13

TC said...

At the end of the poem there is a shift of attention, away from the ostensible hero (who now fades into unrecognizability) to the ostensible witness, to the ghostly heroine herself, upon whose afflicted figure, we now gather, everything turned, all along.

Or from which, one might more accurately say, everything turned away, all along.

The pariah.

Yes, the bombing in Syria. That ought to help.

Anonymous said...

so kind of you Tom...I will keep the english version..thanks!