On Reading Rilke

Ich bin derselbe noch, der kniete

I’m still the one who knelt before you in monks’ robes, patiently waiting.
You filled him as he called you into being—
a voice from a quiet cell
with the world blowing past,
And you are ever again the wave
sweeping through all things.

That’s all there is. Only an ocean
where now and again islands appear.
That’s all there is: no harps, no angels.
And the one before whom all things bow
is the one without a voice.

Are you, then, the All? and I the separated one
who tumbles and rages?
Am I not the whole? Am I not all things
when I weep, and you the single one, who hears it?

Listen—don’t you hear something?
Aren’t there voices other than mine?
Is that a storm? I am one also,
whipping the trees to call to you.

Are you distracted from hearing me
by some whining little tune?
That’s mine as well—hear mine as well;
it’s lonely and unheard.

I’m the one who’s been asking you—
it hurts to ask—Who are you?
I am orphaned
each time the sun goes down.
I can feel cast out from everything
and even churches can look like prisons.

That’s when I want you—
you knower of my emptiness,
you unspeaking partner to my sorrow—
that’s when I need you, God, like food.

Maybe you don’t know what the nights are like
for people who can’t sleep.
They all feel guilty—
the old man, the young woman, the child.
They’re driven through darkness as though
their pale hands writing; they’re twisted
like a pack of frenzied hounds.

What’s past lies still ahead
and the future is finished.
They see not the faintest glimmer of morning
and listen in vain for the cock’s crow.
The night is a huge house
where doors torn open by terrified hands
lead into endless corridors, and there’s no way out.

God, every night is like that.
Always there are some awake,
who turn, turn and do not find you.
Don’t you hear them blindly treading the dark?
Don’t you hear them crying out
as they go farther and farther down?
Surely you hear them weep, for they are weeping.

I seek you, because they are passing right by my door.
Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle
and is not afraid—
the deep one, whose being I trust,
for it breaks through the earth into trees,
and rises,
when I bow my head,
faint as a fragrance
from the soil. – Rilke


Response from here:

Let’s see, what do I know about You?

I know that you are the music, the notes and, most of all, the spaces between the notes.

I know that you are always waiting there, divine spouse, love of my life . . .

We plan to meet and you show up, but I’m often late,

and there you are, leaning against the streetlight, patiently waiting in the dark.Streetlamp

Your arms are always open, but I push at you and hold you back, because I am afraid of dying.

Still, there you are, waiting in the silence, and that has to be lonely.

You never judge.

You just wait.

How did all this happen?

I could say you must have been lonely, or some of the other things people surmise,

And I suppose you were. . .

But I believe in love.

I really do, you know.  I know you now.

And I really don’t care where it comes from, or why or how;

I don’t care what your motive is, or your need or your neurosis was, because here we are, and here it is, this love, which is always on offer . . .

Patiently, kindly. . .

And that is what keeps me going.

You know (God knows?), you don’t get much in return, but perhaps I’ll improve.

It could happen.

Because now we’ve found each other again.

We’ve renewed our vows, that “promise we made in pre-eternity.”

So it’s just a matter of time, and sometimes I manage to slip past time and it is NOW.

Oh, yes. . .

One thought on “On Reading Rilke

  1. Enjoyed the Rilke poem and your own. It can be hard in the middle of the night when the body doesn’t feel like a friend. They say that after we know the other as our own self, we can never be alone. Until then, a beautiful poem can come close to being what we need. Thanks, Amidha.

Any comments, questions or additions?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.