February 12, 2011

In the Asylum Garden

 The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles
by Vincent van Gogh

The abandoned cloister still encloses the courtyard
as if it were holy.
It remains a retreat from the world
For those who live there now.

Whatever could happen has already happened.
Now they are glad to walk the trusted paths
that draw them apart and bring them back together,
so simple and willing.

Some, on their knees beside the planted beds,
are absorbed by what they are tending.
When no one can see, there is
a secret little gesture they make.

To touch the tender early grass,
shyly to caress it.
The green is friendly and needs protection
from the rose whose red can be too fierce

and can overpower once again
what they know in their hearts to be true.
Still the inner knowledge is always there:
how good the grass is and how soft.

New Poems


  1. I think this poem of Rilke's merges the outer and the inner beautifully. There's an objective, observing quality about the poem - plus a tender empathy with those touching the 'tender early grass' in that 'retreat from the world'.

  2. I agree, Robert, I feel that I am watching those in the garden with tenderness along with Rilke.

    Having just come over from Rumi (link is on the sidebar), where the uncanny connection again gives me pause, I keenly feel a oneness of these garden tenders with the plants they are tending, with nature. Rumi says it this way:

    We began as a mineral. We emerged into plant life
    and into the animal state. Then into being human,
    and always we have forgotten our former states,
    except in early spring when we almost
    remember being green again.

    The greenness these tenders protect is within themselves. "Whatever could have happened has already happened" . . . yet there is still the "former state" within that can be remembered, maybe by tenderly caressing the early spring green grass.

  3. And then Ruth, there is little wonder that when my world feels like heavy sticks and stones and comes in around my ears that I have such healing in a walk in the woods. Yesterday, the formidable power of water alone. If only I could convey it. A rough river cuts a corner with a tree standing dumbly by. It is cold here. A wall. A wall! was created by the spray, but the river coursing, at the tree's knees, as though even this mighty river bowed down an instant, still an instant, in its course around the corner and by the tree.

    Yes, Robert puts it perfectly for me, the marriage of outer and inner, the slight pique and threat of passionate red, and the goodness and softness of green grass. If I weren't already a Rilke fan, I would be with this one.


  4. The quote below in the "animal" post still haunts me. "If the confident animal coming toward us had a mind like ours, the change in him would startle us". And this post, because our mind "sees" differently, we can be damaged in ways animals usually are not. "The path is no longer trusted." The beautiful rose is usually noticed first, longed for first. And when we can't have it or maybe have too much of it, we become damaged. And the simple "grass" rejuvenates our spirit, heals us, balances us. Animals rarely over-indulge. It seems to be a human trait.

    Except when our dog ran around the house with a cooked whole chicken in his mouth, wings and legs flying off and the kids chasing him around trying to get it, afraid he would choke on a bone. (I think I wanted him to choke on the bone :) Yes, instead of that episode, I don't think I have ever seen over-indulgence in an animal before.

  5. ruth - creating the space or making yourself available to it - is made potent by the sense of that space as a courtyard which is a prescribed space - entirely open to the sky and then also to the earth below. steven

  6. This blog is like a secret gesture on the trusted path of Rilke - a moment of retreat from the world where we are brought together to share inner knowledge of just how good, soft and friendly the garden can be. I appreciate the tenderness I find here with other 'inmates'.

  7. The pairing of Rilke's text with the van Gogh painting is, for me, so poignant. The latter is a marvelous visualization of the poem's meaning.

  8. his words fe-el as if these tease my brain, I could have sworn the petals of the rose were iron, metal. Like thinly hammered plates. Smooth as a flowere's petal and inscribed. Numbers written with letters that I had thought I'd seen. Scenes since seemed like memories were really not that at all. Rather than reality, these things, those thinks I thought of later, now I see how, what I saw then, were just plain imaginary dreams. Dreams of old and thoughts were molded, into lives I've never lived. Just thoughts of things, objects from a fabled land, know as the land of make believe

    So not being able, to recall, all the details that I thought I saw, little pieces of bigger pictures that I believed, not to be just a plain old dream. This drives me to desires to punch at Rilke or scramble his words he used to paint, of certain scenes. If it were not, for the overflowing and consistently spilly irony, felt through too much feeling, I would think my blood was anemic, an animal with a lost ability, to acquire hold and properly set, in place, the correct, amount of irony. And damaged, the bed blood cells would decrease, in their efficiency of my blood to carry many things (most notable would be O2, two circles of oxygen, sharing electron, part of the air of which I breathe.


"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!