Posts Tagged ‘Rilke’

Offer your beauty always without calculation or defense.
            —Rainer Maria Rilke, “Initial,” trans. Mark S. Burrows
Oh friend, it’s true. These dark hours
can crumple us, can press.
No way to escape their crush.
How merciless it can be,
the fist of grief,
how strong the squeeze,
how difficult to believe
we’ll survive.
Today, it is enough
to offer the world
only the simplest song—
the wordless, tuneless
song of beingness.
How beautiful it is,
this offering,
your breath against my cheek.

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Give me your hand.
            —this epigraph, and all italic lines by Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Wild Love,” trans. by Joanna Macy

Tonight, again, I slip my hand into the hand of Rilke
and let him lead me into regions of beauty and terror.
Though I weep, though I tremble, he does not let go.
When I praise, he reminds me, No feeling is final.
There was a time, perhaps, when I did not believe
a poem could save my life. Now, I know.
If you could examine my cells, you would see
every single one of them has been tattooed
with his words. I use poems the way others
use a rope, a light, a crust of bread, a knife.
He whispers to me of impermanence.
Is it not the very fragrance of our days?
And yet, he seems to say, in the meantime
there is so much splendor to be made.

*Inspired also by correspondence with Luise Levy and John Mason

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And do you know that you’re actually going to make more of a difference by focusing on politics than on the culture you’re passionate about? You don’t know what you might help make happen. Our world is full of the result of unintended as well as intended consequences. 

        —Yo-Yo Ma, “Yo-Yo Ma and the Meaning of Life” in The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 20, 2020

When Rilke travelled through Russia

and studied Saint Francis

and fell in love with the married Salomé

and wrote poems for The Book of Hours,

he could not have known

that over a century later

a woman on another continent

would find herself wrestled by darkness

and find in his poems encouragement

to lean even deeper into darkness

until she could fall in love

with what she feared most.

He could not have known she would

tattoo his words into her memory

and scribe them into her blood

so whenever she walked or lay in the dark

she would have his words ever with her,

and they made her not only more brave

but more wildly alive than she’d been before.

And what if, as his parents had pushed,

Rilke had joined the military

and turned his back on poetry?

And what if he had not gotten himself expelled

from trade school so he could go on

to study literature and art?

What would have become of the woman

a hundred years later

had she not found his poem

and learned from him to love the dark?

Here’s a version of that poem that saved me, “You Darkness, That I Come From,” read by Meryl Streep.

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I Want a Lot

You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

     —Rainer Maria Rilke, “You See, I Want a Lot,” trans. Robert Bly

Rilke, you were right.

I want so much to be useful.

Today I stared at the brown cardboard box

on the counter and marveled

at how a box knows exactly what it’s here to do—

it holds what needs to be held,

it keeps things together,

it helps things move where they need to go.

It is a fort for a child or a bed for a cat

or a makeshift sled in winter.

I hazard to say the box never worries

if it is enough. It simply folds up

when its task is done and waits to be of use again.

Or not. Oh, this longing to do more, to be more,

to serve more, because in every direction,

the need is so great. Oh, this fear

that no matter how much I do, it is never enough.

A man is not a crowbar, a hoe.

A woman is not a box,

but oh for a moment to be able

to keep things together.

I know it’s not how it works,

but oh, for a moment,

to hold all that needs to be held.

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(translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, poem I,1 from “Book of a Monastic Life”)

We are lonely,
the tea and me
and nine o’clock.
So I ask Rilke
to join us. He tells me,
just as the sun
leaps over the mesa
and enters the window,
that nothing has ever
been real without
my beholding it.
I sit a long,
long time considering
his words. Not the sun?
Not the tea? Not
the gray moth?
The Holocaust?
He tells me this:
All becoming
has needed me.
Looking over the white field
to the blue spruce in the grove
I do not hear
one of them fall.

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