“FOR THE SAKE OF A SINGLE VERSE, ONE MUST SEE MANY CITIES, MEN, AND THINGS…”: RILKE’S FOR THE SAKE OF A SINGLE VERSE, WITH 24 FOLIO ILLUSTRATIONS SIGNED BY BEN SHAHN
(SHAHN, Ben) (RILKE, Ranier Maria). For the Sake of a Single Verse… from the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Ranier Maria Rilke. (New York: Atelier Mourlot, 1968). Large folio (18 by 23 inches), loose as issued in original vellum and cloth clamshell box, original packing materials.
Signed limited first edition, number 16 of only 200 copies (out of a total edition of 750 copies) with 24 original lithographs, 23 of which are signed by Shahn.
As Shahn explains in the Afterword to this work, his close affinity for Rilke began when he was 28 years old and newly arrived in Paris. “I found on one of the bookstalls along the Seine a small volume called ‘Les Cahiers de Malte Laurids Brigge.’ I was entranced by the writer’s observations, not just upon Paris, but on life itself. Malte Brigge had only just arrived in Paris when the notebooks began. He too was twenty-eight. This young man seemed almost to be me… Such was the beginning of my sense of kinship with Rilke.” In Rilke’s writings Shahn found the courage to follow his own path: “It is tempting to be part of the avant-garde, it is so exciting to be part of a movement, daring and yet secure. But it is an illusion and it creates within the painter a complaisant sense of having done things which in truth he has not done… no manifesto could ever tell me more clearly than this one paragraph of Rilke’s that art is an emanation from a person; that it is shaped and formed out of the shape and form of that person. In being so acutely personal to him it achieves also a rare universality.” For the Sake of Single Verse illustrates one vital paragraph of Rilke’s: For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men, and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents whom one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and did not grasp it (it was a joy for someone else); to childhood illnesses that so strangely begin with such a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars— and it is not yet enough if one may think of all this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance, and gesture, nameless, and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves— not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.”
“The making of a book was something special to him and he put every effort into its conception and execution. Once he accepted a text, he took time to make an actual book and thereby could experience the relationship between illustration and type page” (Klemin, 80). In For the Sake of a Single Verse, Shahn has done the text in his own hand. Printed at the Mourlot press, famed for producing many of the lithographies of the 20th century’s great artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Matisse.
A fine copy.