I believe in all that has never yet 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 these 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.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
(Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
That blind man, standing on the bridge, as gray
as some abandoned empire’s boundary stone,
perhaps he is the one thing that never shifts,
around which the stars move in their hours,
and the motionless hub of the constellations.
For the city drifts and rushes and struts around him.
He is the just man, the immovable
set down here in many tangled streets;
the dark opening to the underworld
among a superficial generation.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs –
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face
grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.
In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.
And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief –
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
In this town the last house stands
as lonely as if it were the last house in the world
The highway, which the tiny town is not able to stop,
slowly goes deeper out into the night.
The tiny town is only a passing-over place,
worried and afraid, between two huge spaces –
a path running past houses instead of a bridge.
And those who leave the town wander a long way off
and many perhaps die on the road.
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
How many thousands of divinity students
have dipped their bodies into the old night of your name.
What the girls waken to is you,
and when the young men dressed in silver weave
and flash in battle – that is also you.
The poets always met
in your long vaulted corridors.
And they were emperors of pure sound
and moving and deep and assured.
You are the delicate hour at nightfall
that makes all the poets equally good;
you crowd full of darkness into their mouths,
and every poet, sensing he has discovered greatness,
surrounds you with magnificent things.
A hundred thousand harps take you
like wings and sweep you up out of silence.
And your primitive wind is blowing
the fragrance of your marvelous power
to every being and to every creature in need.
The deep parts of my life pour onward,
as if the river shores were opening out.
It seems that things are more like me now,
that I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can’t reach.
With my senses, as with birds, I climb
into the windy heaven, out of the oak,
and in the ponds broken off from the sky
my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.
(photo: Chama River, NM – September 2018)
Oh Lord, it’s time, it’s time. It was a great summer.
Lay your shadow now on the sundials,
and on the open fields let the winds go!
Give the tardy fruits the command to fill;
give them two more Mediterranean days,
drive them on into their greatness, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house by now will not build.
Whoever is alone now, will remain alone,
will wait up, read, write long letters,
and walk along sidewalks under large trees,
not going home, as the leaves fall and blow away.
(translated by Robert Bly)
(Photo: Little Sebago Lake, Maine – December 2016)