January 5, 2011

The Impermanence We Are

Moscow During the Winter, by Leonid Pasternak

It seems
our own impermanence is concealed from us.
The trees stand firm, the houses we live in
are still there. We alone
flow past it all, an exchange of air.

Everything conspires to silence us,
partly with shame,
partly with unspeakable hope.

From the Second Duino Elegy


  1. Unspeakable hope, I know someone who needs that today (my little sister). I will send her this quote, thank you for it!

  2. Terresa, good that Rilke brought you a gift for your little sister today, a gift of circular, not linear time. It's remarkable how this man keeps giving to us.

    As always, there is so much to reflect on in these lines of Rilke's. What I notice today is the contrast between constancy and impermanence, something that Rumi also speaks of today:


    Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
    up to where you're bravely working.

    Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
    here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.

    Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
    If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
    you would be paralyzed.

    Your deepest presence
    is in every small contracting and expanding,
    the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
    as birdwings.

  3. May I say how much I am enjoying this new project, Ruth and Lorenzo. Rilke has always been one of my favourite poets. When I first read him, he spoke immediately to me. Many years ago I had the privilege of studying him as part of a university course in German Language and Literature. 'Duino Elegies' - his greatest work, I think - just blew me away. Not long ago I read 'Letters To A Young Poet' for the first time - a book that astonished and delighted me. So many of your readers seem to be into Rilke, which has pleased me no end. For he's not always the most accessible of writers. However, I think he's astounding modern, and speaks directly to those of us who like the interior journey.

  4. So much to take in today — the unspeakable hope of Rilke, the fine Rumi poem, with the life pulse imagery of opening and closing, contracting and expanding. The Rumi imagery reminds me of certain verses from E.E. Cumming's poem, "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled."

    your slightest look will unclose me
    though I have closed myself as fingers,
    you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
    (touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

    or if your wish be to close me, i and
    my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
    as when the heart of this flower imagines
    the snow everywhere carefully descending

    • • •

    (I do not know what it is about you that closes
    and opens; only something in me understands
    the voice of your eyes is deeper that all roses)
    nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.

    Opening and closing, expanding and contracting, coming and going, systolic and diastolic — these are the rhythms of life, both literally and metaphorically.

  5. For the past month, my imperanence has been slapping my face, rather like those heartburn commercials. An ongoing set of virus or bacteria driven maladies. I can't wait to get well and deny my mortality again.

  6. Robert, the Rilke interest seems so sudden and universal, which pleases me greatly too. I've known of him for years, had Letters to a Young Poet and The Book of Images, which I had picked up and read now and then, but until the last few months, I hadn't felt this irresistible magnetism I feel now. I attribute the shift to something in me awakening, which seems to have awakened in you long ago. This is so wonderful.

    George, so beautiful!! The image of the flower, like the hand, opening and closing. ". . . only something in me understands. . . . " We can rest and dissolve in the images, holding them, and letting them go, and understand.

    California Girl, while you are ill, what can you do but hold it, be held by it, until it lets you go. I pray it will let go of you very soon. I wish you the best blooming "reckless" health!

  7. I wonder if it's not a societal problem? We spend the majority of our lives scrambling to aquire and nail down both people and things, never mind the fight that we have in our own bodies to preserve. I wonder if we were brought into the world by parents (a societal parental group of ideas) that suggested, ah, here we are for now, what do you see? Oh look, a tree. How lucky we are at this moment for this house. Look how the chipmunk on the road rots! And how the other takes bites from all of our perfect tomatoes! Who would we be if we didn't weep for the dead but danced instead for the lives lived? If we didn't worry so about tomorrow, but steeped in the day instead? Wouldn't we all be in a healthier spot?

    I am left considering both the shame and the hope. I think in this lies a mystery for me that I am only now beginning to unravel.


  8. wrapped in shame and hope - silence. i have known those times.

  9. what is occurring to me here this second day considering this quote, is that it is one of the bravest acts to hold hope in the face of, in the knowledge of, in the acceptance of it all dying.


  10. When I first read this piece, I wasn't sure how to interpret it, so I allowed the meaning to settle, and it feels to me something like allowing the moment to unfold completely, not rushing to the next, or wishing it to be over, but fully enjoying the experience. In doing so, we may be physically impermanent, and often feel the constraints of that, but always energetically infinite, inviting possibility into the moment with our "mere" presence. So, we may simultaneously laugh and weep :)

    Rumi's "Birdwings" has always been a favorite of mine...thank you for the beautiful gift of receiving it today, as I am in the midst of a "day off" to refresh and breathe in the abundance of the day...

    And, I love reading the comments...I learn so much from each reflection!


"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!