Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Some days are good days for a little Rilke

Some days are good days for a little Rilke …

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), poet and visionary from Prague, became a crucial part of my life after I read his “Letters to a Young Poet,” at about the time I moved away from home in L.A. to Colorado, to study poetry. My husband, who I met that same year, had several of his books, including a well-worn yellow, green, and gold, “Selected” translated by Stephen Mitchell with an introduction by Robert Hass. The book, even more beat up, sits on the bed next to me now.

Its not just that Rilke is an amazing poet, that his language is beautiful and often startling – its also that what he pulls from the ether is profound – that it always seems to vibrate with energy. And that he isn’t afraid to talk about death. That to him death walks side-by-side, intertwined with life.

When my father-in-law died a few years ago, my husband was with him in Philadephia and I was some several thousand miles away house-sitting, alone, in Cardiff, Wales. I spent the day reading Rilke: The Duino Elegies, The Sonnets to Orpheus, Requiem, over and over, out loud until my throat ached. I sat in the Cardiff house’s kitchen, staring out the window at the gray skies, the wet chimney pots of the houses across the alley, the seagulls winging by. And at one point went out and stared for over an hour at the sunflower in a pot that had been planted by one of the young daughters of the house.

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There is a small field of sunflowers outside my kitchen window now, where I live in Santa Fe. Life connects. Today I am wondering if that might be its most prevalent characteristic … that even when you least expect it, life connects.

Here is a bit of Rilke, then, for Monday …

From “The Sonnets to Orpheus” – II, 14

Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,
to whom we lend fate from the very border of fate.
And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,
perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret.

All Things want to fly. Only we are weighed down by desire,
caught in ourselves and enthralled with our heaviness.
Oh what consuming, negative teachers we are
or them, while eternal childhood fills them with grace.

If someone were to fall into intimate slumber, and slept
deeply with Things–: how easily he would come
to a different day, out of the mutual depth.

Or perhaps he would stay there; and they would blossom and praise
their newest convert, who now is like one of them,
all those silent companions in the wind of the meadows.

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