Wednesday, December 09, 2015


Angelus Novus by Paul Klee. India ink, colored chalk, and brown wash on paper. 1920.


My wing is ready to fly
I would rather turn back
For had I stayed mortal time
I would have had little luck.
—Gerhard Scholem, “Angelic Greetings”

"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm."

—Thesis IX, On the Concept of History, by Walter Benjamin, translation by Dennis Redmond.


And then there is another angel...


"I turned from my window, heavy of heart as only a near and certain joy makes us, when I felt and alien presence in the room. It was nothing more than a stirring of the air, so that the words which formed themselves on my lips were like the creases suddenly thrown off a limp sail before a fresh breeze. 'Once more each year / the Christ child dwells / on Earth below / midst weal and woe'—with these words did the angel who had begun to take form in them evaporate. I did not stay any longer in the empty room."

—from "A Christmas Angel" by Walter Benjamin, as found in Berlin Childhood Circa 1900, translation by Carl Skoggard.


Ada Ludenow said...

Oh this is just great. Now I'm going to have to read Rilke again. Thank you, Troy.

troysworktable said...

I've been slowly reading Rilke's Duino Elegies at the suggestion of a friend. Rilke's angel must have been bouncing around in my head at the same time that Benjamin's angels were. I know that the angel of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and the angels of the prophet Daniel and the seer John of Patmos were back there somewhere as well. I just happened to be reading Benjamin's childhood reminiscences and in translator Skoggard's notes on "The Christmas Angel" he mentioned Angelus Novus, Klee, and Benjamin's other work. But Rilke is definitely there too!