April 13, 2011

Spanish Trilogy (2)

Still Life with Basket of Vegetables

How is it that people go around
and pick up random things
and carry them about? Like the porter
who heaves market baskets from stall to stall
as they keep filling up, and he lugs his burden
and never asks, Sir, for whom is this feast?

How is it that one just stands here, like that shepherd,
so exposed to the energies of the universe,
so integral to the streaming events of space
that simply leaning against a tree in the landscape
gives him his destiny; he need do nothing more.
And yet he lacks in his restless gaze
the tranquil solace of the herd,
has nothing but world, world, each time he looks up,
world in each downward glance.

Uncollected Poems


  1. Stanza one: laughter! I'll never look at people carrying other people's things around the same again (though we don't see this that much now, I think). Rilke's power to observe in a way that is not habitual is an inspiration.

    Which leads to stanza two! Oh my goodness. . . . simply leaning against a tree in the landscape / gives him his destiny; Yes, the shepherd looks as though he must be relaxed, could even be lazy! What an easy job. But no, he can't be thoughtless like the sheep, only thinking of food and sleep: his whole world of survival depends on his sheep surviving.

    What I love about these observations Rilke does in Spain (Brendan or someone can tell us when this came in his life, which I assume it really did) is how true it is that when you get outside your own home environment (like Steven going to Cuba), all your senses come alive. Everything is new, and observation becomes keen. You see yourself differently, because you are not walking in the same path from your door to the world. I find that for myself, just staying overnight in different walls can bring fresh inspiration, or walking in a different neighborhood, smelling foreign smells, hearing strange sounds. To be observant like that always, even at home, is the challenge.

  2. hi ruth, the second stanza carries so much weight for me in its description of mindfulness. not only as an ideal but as ongoing event that distinguishes the significance of the experiencing of this world as exposure to the flow of totality from that experienced in the "tranquil solace of the herd". displacement from the norm certainly helps in that regard. i'd love to travel continuously for that reason. but i've also found that inner travel that isn't entirely reflective but exploratory has a similar effect. the challenge is that it's very difficult to find the time and space for it. steven

  3. Rilke's restless motion warred, I think, with the stillness and presence he so desired; the conflict was Intimacy: he suffered the proximities of real love, finding his best words for it separated far from his wife. Here I think he realizes the difficulty of seeing everything with the innocent gaze; one doesn't know infinity is right there, so earnest are we looking over the horizon for where we think it waits. He kept moving outward, around, not knowing how much he was honing in on his inwardness. Synecdoche -- don't ya love the phrase, where a small detail stands for an entire Theme? So travel here, and gazing, and observation are all synecdoche of Inwardnes. I agree with Steven -- inner travel isn't "entirely reflective but exploratory" -- real travel may actually miss the point, being simply the literal transit of an inner, literate one. ... Brendan

  4. Those questions in the first stanza, about looking and seeing, seem so simple on the surface but, I think, are a necessary precursor to what's asked in the second stanza. Without some experience of the world without, how do we begin to understand the world within, our place, the meaning of our life in context with other life?

  5. the second stanza whips me. it's surprising because it seems rather tame at first, but then whop, there it is on me, causing me to start,

    so exposed to the energies of the universe,
    so integral to the streaming events of space
    that simply leaning against a tree in the landscape
    gives him his destiny

    and so we are here living, thereby subjected to the energies of the universe. god i love this. and thereby we're integral. and yet we can not be dull and lazy. we must engage! we have to question, for whom is this feast?

    and then the supreme understatement of the shepherd having ONLY world, world, world! holy shit! ONLY?! yes! and best to recognize it! question it. see it. learn it.

    Rilke's restless motion warred, I think, with the stillness and presence he so desired. you sure you're not talking about me, brendan. pretty succinct about my journey. i'll borrow it?

    each time, i swear, i come thinking, ok, enough with rilke. he'll have nothing left to teach me, and then he raises his switch.


  6. ...nothing but world, world, each time he looks up... this gives me shivers
    he sees the people around him, he really sees them...a fine and sensitive observer and sometimes more a feeler than a writer

  7. the question comes to me. why are men gatherers?
    we always seek more, to expand, to exceed while the world above and below us in its entirety is all about us.
    It makes me think of the native americans and how many of them lived and how they couldn't understand the white man's brands and fences.
    I womder is the disease greed, arrogance or discontentment. I wonder if there is a cure that can last beyond a mood.


"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!