April 11, 2011

The Future Enters Us

 Rainer Maria Rilke

It seems to me that all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we feel as paralysis because we can no longer experience our banished feelings. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us, because we feel momentarily abandoned by what we've believed and grown accustomed to; because we can't keep standing as the ground shifts under our feet. That is why the sadness passes over like a wave. The new presence inside us, that which has come to us, has entered our heart, has found its way to its innermost chamber, and is no longer even there—it is already in our blood. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be persuaded that nothing happened, and yet something has changed inside us, as a house changes when a guest comes into it. We cannot say who has entered, we may never know, but there are many indications that the future enters us in just this way, to transform itself within us long before it happens. That is why it is so important to be alone and attentive when you are sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than any loud and accidental point of time which occurs, as it were, from the outside.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1902
Letters to a Young Poet


  1. I agree with Rilke about the importance of staying with our sadness rather than rushing away from it into activity or denial. Sadness matters. We can learn from it and given that it's inevitable that in some way or other, at some time or other we will inevitably experience it then it helps to recognise it and to know how to deal with it.

  2. Yes, Elisabeth.

    This passage reminds me of something Steven said recently in a comment, something about preparing ourselves in this moment for what is to come. I think that is what we do by responding to the here and now, which is of course the only thing we can do, really.

    I have found that when I do not resist sadness, the tension leaves. If there is no expectation that I must not be sad, it is easier to face. I also find that I have to explore the sadness, get to know the stranger, understand from where he has come.

  3. sadness like a wave washing through the land of our body. it catches everything without condition. steven

  4. A maybe more prosaic comment, but...: This was thus written when Rilke, as a then rather unknown young poet, visited Sweden during six months, invited by a Swedish poet and feminist, Ellen Key. He became actually and probably more wellknown in Sweden than elsewhere then and influenced for decades a number of Swedish poets and authors. I'm "proud" to say that the first time Rilke read one of his poems in public, was in Gothenburg, my home town. :-)

    (Well, maybe you "experts" already knew all this. Sorry.)

    This said, the quoted text is remarkable!

  5. Peter, no, I did not know that, or even know he spent time in Sweden. I am no Rilke scholar and am like a sponge reading to suck up any information you, Brendan, Lorenzo, DS, Robert, Claudia and others offer here. I love that you have seen his house in Paris and that the first time he read in public in Sweden was in your own Gothenburg!

    Ellen Kay, another feminist like Lou Andreas-Salomé, who was drawn to this most interesting of men with strong characteristics of both the masculine and feminine. I feel any remaining boundaries inside me in a continuous dissolve.

  6. OH MY!!!

    as a house changes when a guest comes into it...That is why it is so important to be alone and attentive when you are sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than any loud and accidental point of time.

    holy god! did he get this right! i'm breathless.

    we grow in sadness. it is necessary. and so to turn against it - what? self preservation? actually, quite the contrary. like a hammer to the head, we become dulled. sadness instead cultivates us.


  7. erin, I love that part too, and the sadness like a wave (how like a wave it is, and how it threatens to immerse us), and as Ruth says it is best sometimes to sink into it and allow it to do just that. Immerse us. But what of those times when we can't?

    Sadness cultivates us. Yes. I think so. But it is a very fine blade...

    How I love and learn from these discussions!!

  8. what a remarkable and unique thought that sadness is actually a portent of something to come. Not sure I comprehend that but gonna pick it up and put it in my sack


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!