A Prayer to Life

Lou von Salome as a teenager

As truly as I'd love a friend,
I have loved you, riddle of life,
whether I've rejoiced with you or wept,
whether you've brought me contentment or strife.

Even when you hurt I love you,
and, when you must scatter me through space,
I will tear myself from your arms
as if from a dear friend's embrace.

With all my strength I cling to you;
let all your fire enkindle me.
Even in the heat of battle
let me unravel your mysteries.

A thousand years to live and think!
Deep in your arms I long to remain.
When you have no more joy to give--
very well--you still have your pain.

"Lebensgebet", Lou Andreas-Salome
Translated by Frank Beck

In 1880 Lou von Salome of St. Petersburg was 19 and studying at the University of Zurich, one of the first European universities to accept female students. She enrolled in courses in philosophy, theology and art history. She also wrote poems, one of which was this bold declaration to accept whatever life might bring her.

Two years later in Rome, Lou struck up a friendship with Nietzsche, who liked the poem so much he set it to music.  He later said of her: "I found no more gifted or reflective spirit. Lou is by far the smartest person I ever knew."

Lou went on to become Rilke's "lover, mother and muse" and then a pioneering psychoanalyst to whom Freud sometimes referred patients. A new film by Cordula Kablitz-Post tells the story of her life. It was shown in theaters in Germany last year and was released in Europe on Blu-ray/DVD in February. The film, which had its U.S. premiere in April 8 the Cleveland International Film Festival, will have its Canadian premiere in Waterloo, Ontario on May 31 and will be in cinemas across France on that date. 


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