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Tag Archives: Rainer Maria Rilke

Variation on a Theme by Rilke

Denise Levertov wrote mystical poetry which applied to daily her life. Her poetry contains qualities similar to Rilke who explored life through the spaces provided in poetry. In a sense, poetry acts as a form of Sabbath.

We read poetry’s words and the silence. In the latter, the former come to life asking questions of our whole self. There is no answer in the strictest sense. What emerges in the silence are new questions and as Rilke said, “We live into the questions.”

The silent spaces are important as they enrich the active moments of life. In those silent spaces, we become present in life which confronts us as a sword striking shoulder sending us honorably forward fulfilling life’s tasks and believing we can.

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

Cages

When I posted The Panther, these musings began to circulate and percolate. They were part of that post and they kept resonating in ways that were difficult to ignore. More often than not, humans are the designers of their cages. We struggle to set aside the desires and ego that form the bars. Setting these aside, is a liberating process.

Mindlessly,

I build these cages,

Bars more imagined, than real;

Yet, impenetrable.

I look deep,

I find an inner source;

Here, power and beauty

In restful communion.

Here, the ego steps aside,

I let go;

Bars melt,

The cage is no more.

No longer, a captive of my making,

I walk–

The meadow endless;

Yet, much revealed in this place.

The Panther

Rilke worked for the sculptor Rodin. Rumour has it Rilke could not write and grew frustrated. Rodin suggested he go to the zoo, observe and see one of the animals clearly, and write about those observations. The result was this poem which described the essence, from Rilke’s point of view, of this magnificent, trapped animal, a metaphor, in some ways for the sometimes trapped human essence and creative seat.

We, as humans, pace behind the bars that we construct for ourselves and have to look inside for power that allows escape. Our spirits reveal the power and beauty where ultimate personal and collective meaning are. In the quiet and stillness of being fully present to ourselves, much is revealed. Otherwise, the cages and bars of our own making capture us and refuse to let us go.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a sound … then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

I Believe in All That Has Never Yet Been Spoken

I am getting back into a groove after my first full week home. I let things flow a bit this week. Rilke suggested letting go or not contriving in this poem. When I don’t over plan, I find I am more open and accept the flow of things much like the beginner’s mind of a child. Watching children engrossed in play is a reminder that can happen for me as an adult and, as it does, the river widens and flows in every widening channels. Life becomes somehow larger, but not in an explainable way.

Posting images of our trip through Glacier National Park is believing in all that has never yet been spoken. Nature allows me to speak without using words. It is a palette of creation which speaks without speaking and shares without words. It just is and teaches through its presence.

The role of sabbath is to rest on the swelling and ebbing currents and rest in each moment. Perhaps, as I do, I take an expanded mind and soul into next week.

I believe in all that has never been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in those swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

 

I Am Much Too Alone in the World, and not Alone Enough

Today, I talked with students whose main concern about school is they do not like it. One thing I gleaned was a reluctance to accept personal responsibility which should be something students learn in school. There are reasons for this lack of responsibility. One that is overlooked is responsibility is taken away from children.

What made this an interesting conversation was some of these students are ‘special needs’. In many ways they are bright, articulate problem-solvers frustrated by a system that has failed them leaving them to feel as if they were failing. They see school as a place they have to go and not a place of learning.

What was disconcerting is I am told just get them these students through the system. These children are someone else’s problem next year. We shuffle these students from school to school in this fashion, in effect sorted out of the failed system. Educators, politicians, and bureaucrats fail them daily.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this poem and it reminded me of one thing humans want in life: free will and to be part of conversations about them in honest ways. School is not  a game played with unrevealed rules, but a place of learning. What if adults took time, listened to children, and helped them find the path where we each learn new words each day?

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

I am often challenged to see life’s challenges as ways to grow; to turn the bitter into wine. It has become easier with age, maturity, and perhaps wisdom. It is easier to embrace change as inevitable and life is a transient journey I am on. Nothing remains constant and static. It becomes easier to reclaim my voice with an attitude of resilience. I stand in ways that allow me to move back and forth into the pain and breathe. Rilke spoke of this so well in this wonderful poem.

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.

Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell.

As you ring, what batters you becomes your strength.

Move back and forth into the change.

What is it like, such intensity of pain?

If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night, be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,

the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you, say to the silent earth: I flow.

To the rushing water, speak: I am.

The Panther

I had a great day today. The beauty of mindfulness is I am learning that good and not so good pass and flow into another moment. I waited more than 1/2 of my life, I hope, to learn this lesson. The day was long, but sharing tea and conversation at the end completed it so fully.

Today, as I reflected on yesterday’s ‘trials’ I recalled Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, The Panther. I felt like that yesterday. When I let go, I felt so much better; I no longer pacing behind bars.

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted

that it no longer holds anything anymore.

To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand

bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride

which circles down to the tiniest hub

is like a dance of energy around a point

in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise

without a second … then a shape enters,

slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,

reaches the heart, and dies.

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