January 28, 2011

Am I Not the Whole?

Rodin, 1902, by Edward Steichen

God, are you then the All? And I the separated one
who tumbles and rages?
Am I not the whole? Am I not all things
when I weep, and you the single one, who hears it?

From The Book of Hours II, 3


  1. Another fantastic pairing of word and image.

  2. I just received my copy of Thirst , Mary Oliver , last night. And while I only glanced at it briefly, this poem above made me thing of the theme of her journey after losing her love.

    a lament , but a peace.

  3. My mind begins a loop, reading passages like this from this man. The image reflects the feeling too. Which is the man, which is God? How alike they look! And they complete each other. Like mirror yin-yang images.

    Once again I find hope in the tearful tumbles and rages. If God is not One, what future hope is there? If we don't find ourselves made whole, what hope is there of God?

  4. This is such a striking, evocative photograph by Steichen. As for Rilke's theological questions, which almost seem rhetorical, there is a bit of confusion for me. If God is All, how could Rilke be the separated one? If Rilke is "the whole" and "all things," how can God be the single one? Personally, I think Rilke knew viscerally that All is One and that, in the larger, mystical and mysterious scheme of things, "separation" is a cultural artifact of man's ego.

  5. An inspired pairing!

    I agree with George. It seems to me that Rilke was caught here in a misleading dichotomy, assuming god is either this or that, when God surely cannot fit into any either/or categories the human mind conceives. Our longing for a parental figure who will watch over us, provide for us, save us makes us reduce the concept of God into terms that comfort us. So comforted by the 'one', we miss out on the expansion and exaltation of the 'all'.

  6. I'm not sure Rilke has arrived anywhere. Or perhaps other people, greater writers and thinkers than I, write from a perspective of understanding. Or was he not trying to understand, as opposed to telling us directly what he understood? I'm sorry, I only come at this from the snippets of his writings here, and perhaps even worse, from feelings. It seems to me it is a great stream that falls and there is a fluctation between it, the stream, god, and man. It seems to me Rilke is struggling to get his head around it. It seems that we have fallen from the stream in our smaller corporeal bodies and so are only a part of it, and yet it seems to us like we are our own whole, or at least can experience the whole through our human experience. We are of the spill of the whole and yet the whole spills through us. I'm not sure where god would sit for Rilke, in this case, as god would be the single one to hear it, but he writes, God, are you then the All? and so in the case of the metaphor i've chosen to use, that of the stream, (as all of his thinking is so fluid to me) it seems god would be the stream itself.

    Oh, it is easy to become lost in the water.


  7. I really like this comment from Woman in a Window. 'Rilke is struggling to get his head around it' - yes! As we all are. (Perhaps the heart is a surer route?) The metaphysical can never be cut-and-dried; dichotomy and paradox are its bedfellows. 'We are the spill of the whole and yet the whole spills through us.' What a gorgeous sentence and idea!

  8. Marvelous image, and the commentary is impelling.

    Irish poet John O'Donohue wrote of the belief "that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing", and he referenced in that regard Rilke's statement that "to be here is immense"; that gift makes us inheritors of all that's come before, is now, and will be. This, it seems to me, informs Rilke's question, "Am I not the whole?"

  9. I agree with Erin, that this is borne of (gasp!) feelings, of isolation--perhaps, or of that fear, deep within us all. "And I the separated one who tumbles and rages?" If God is all, and "I" am separated, where am i? and where is God?

  10. What a fabulous photograph. Rilke's belief in his aloneness is sad. I don't feel that way at all. We always have one another. I think the Rodin "Cathedral" sculpture exemplifies togetherness rather than solitary existence.


"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!