………….who always think
……………………….of happiness rising
would feel the emotion
……………that almost startles us
………………………….when a happy thing falls.
Rainer Maria Rilke – Duino Elegies
It often happens. A sensation at the edge of perception. A glint of light, a fluttering of movement. The feeling that some-thing has flitted across the threshold of the senses.
Something there – but not there.
And so it was, walking along the tree-lined footpath by St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. Looking up, amongst the trees it was difficult to see it clearly at first. Something metallic, floating, but also appearing to be entwined amongst the branches, merged with the sky. It was only when a light breeze, initiated a gentle rocking movement that the suspended human form fully emerged.
From another angle, the drifting figure resembled a pencil drawing sketched on to the sky. A shaded human form floating against the blue canvas, slowly dissolving back into leaf and branch.
The gentle motion, both hypnotic and dreamlike conjured up thoughts of Solveig Dommartin’s character, Marion, in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. A lonely trapeze artist, inhabiting the space between ground and sky, who entices an angel down to Earth.
I have subsequently read other people describe the St Mary’s work as “sinister, creepy or disturbing” and it certainly startles you when you first look up and see it. An experience that I’m sure would be intensified if you encountered it in the dark under moonlight. However, for me, the figure conjured up a sensation of something otherworldly, yet strangely familiar. A fluid form of substance and air, swinging silently, and like ‘Marion’ suspended between the earth and sky.
From a distance I watched for a short time as many people passed along the footpath. The vast majority did not look up or see the figure suspended amongst the leaves. Silently watching, waiting to transform the everyday city into an encounter with the uncanny.
Now playing: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Carny
The quotation from Rilke’s Duino Elegies are the last lines of the translation by David Young (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978). Wim Wenders cites Duino Elegies as the initial inspiration for Wings of Desire.