April 3, 2011

Shining in the Distance

 Provence, by Paul Cézanne

Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.

It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement . . .
But we just feel the wind against us.

Uncollected Poems


  1. Rilke's yearning for the distant here - a key feature of German Romanticism and Romanticism generally - reminds me of the poems in Hermann Hesse's little prose-poem collection 'Wandering'. This was one of the first books I read which compelled me to go wandering myself. I think my gaze has been on that sunlit hill ever since.

    'I feel it again and again, no matter
    Whether I am old or young:
    A mountain range in the night,
    On the balcony a silent woman,
    A white street in the moonlight curving gently away
    That tears my heart with longing out of my body.'

    As Martin Buber says, 'All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware'.

  2. Robert, I love both the figurative sunlit hill, and the literal one that you follow in your walks and treks. Hesse's lines with the silent woman and the white street in moonlight (I remember a silent man on a balcony in Hawaii and a white street winding up the hill in moonlight in Vézelay, France) add concrete visuals to Rilke's second stanza. This has always called me too—the road, the path to a distant goal, and the inner trek of climbing higher and getting to that spot of light.

  3. Great comments, Solitary Walker, Ruth -- there is the transcendental jones of landscape in Rilke, the old romantic divinity of place -- Wordsworth reaching the next summit, the next sublime.

    I see in the first word of the poem -- "already" -- another element, that of hubris, the fateful hurry we humans have, always greedy for the next surprise, the next lover, the next sublime. We can't help it, any more than we "squander our ours of pain" by trying to transcend it. "Our ancient wandering affliction" makes and mads us, leading us to destroy life holding onto it too fiercely.

    And yet Rilke suggests in this poem that we are called into motion by "something we sense, yet barely are; / a movement beckons, answering our movement." Our gaze wanders; we are called. By something; we feel it fan against our face; "a breath inside the god / a wind." Or, as he puts it in Sonnet 2.1 as he describes the very act of breathing:

    ... How many regions in space have already been
    inside me. There are winds that seem like
    my wandering son."

    Outer, inner space. Landscape as fate. Our hurry toward it like taking deep lungfuls of air. Calling and called. "It changes us, even if we don't reach it." Amen. - Brendan

  4. ok. what the hell is it? what IS it that calls us to the sunlit hill? really? now, come on? this is so frustrating. (really it is and i know there is no definitive answer, but come on, shouldn't there be?) THIS drives me mad.

    last night i got off work and thought, ok, what now? and i travelled pages of possibility and shoulds, i should eat, i should walk, i should read or write, i should watch a movie, i should call my children (they're visiting relatives out of country - oh, how this is something to negotiate!), i should isshould issshsouulllddd. and i felt this heavy weightiness on me as though a clock sat me and i felt a need as a consequence to move to the next minute with clear purpose. always, to the next minute, always trying to move inside of that next minute with purpose, always with movement to the sunlit hill. and i wonder, is this so very different than what rilke writes, for what i wanted to put into that time was not bulk, but meaning. i wanted something to stir me to understand better this life, to have me experience better this life, to have me reach further toward a truth. why couldn't i just sit on the couch, for god's sake, or do any one of those things without feeling a gear move within me outward and away from my solid being of the moment?

    and so i laid on the couch and breathed, thought of my breathing, thought this is bullshit, thought, no, recenter, thought don't try to figure anything out at all, but instead just breathe! well i did. big deal. no answers. no enlightenment. just being. at least i was calm.

    i wonder what we would be outside of linear time? it is the movement that beckons. we slide off it's back as from a series of turtles, one moment to the next, salivating for enlightenment.

    imagine knowing enlightenment as a finished package, as though you might see it sitting on a counter with icing, well sealed in tight cellophane. my, how i'd salivate then!

    have a beautiful day. i'm off to work again. imagine the fuss on my couch again tonight!


  5. Erin, beautiful you.

    You describe my life! Always, always I have lived into the next moment, out of a desperation that it was where I was supposed to be. It has taken years, years, to start to understand that the soul does not wish to move. The soul wishes to be still. It is everything outside of us that pulls and pushes us to do and be more. Yet. There is a movement also in the soul, to get closer to the light, to origins, to the other, to the other within, to completion. It is Life. Life must survive. It's what it does. It does not know any other way. It knows it must grow to live.

  6. is it possible that "the fateful hurry" of looking to the next moment could also be seen as a form of rehearsal or perhaps even preparation? a state of becoming available to the features of the emerging moment. steven

  7. How brilliant that feels, Steven. It redeems the fateful hurry, as does Brendan's quote of winds that seem like / my wandering son. If there is something in us, natural as breath, that leads us forward, we must follow its tug, even while we must live here, now.

    If it were easy, if it were natural to live in that balance, I suppose we would not find this theme and writing so provocative.


"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!