February 9, 2011

Listeners at Last

Road with Cypress and Star, by Vincent van Gogh

Oh when, when, when will we ever have enough
of whining and defining? Haven’t champions
in the weaving of words been here already?
Why keep on trying?

Are not people perpetually, over and over and over again,
assaulted by books as by buzzing alarms?
When, between two books, the quieting sky appears,
or merely a patch of earth at evening—

Louder than all the storms, louder than all the oceans,
people have been crying out:
What abundance of quietude
the Universe must yield, if we screaming humans
can hear the crickets, and if the stars
in the screamed-at ether
can appease our hearts!

Let the farthest, oldest, most ancient
ancestors speak to us!
And let us be listeners at last, humans
finally able to hear.
Uncollected Poems


  1. [all i can say, in a hushed voice that wants to scream, is what the men in church used to say: amen, hallelujah, and praise the lord]

  2. This makes me raise an eyebrow... Can you even imagine how he would lament amongst the tv, radio, I-pods, computers, tweeting, texting, cell phones... If he thought books were a distraction, how can there possibly be hope for us?

    The thought of "champion whiners" made me laugh - (I live with three teenagers, one pre-teen, an 8 year old that doesn't want to be left out and a rambunctious 3 yr. old). I'm just not so sure I stay quite as calm as the "screamed at ether...except maybe when I have my I-pods earphones on! ;).

  3. The world whines and screams in an attempt to drown out the small, still voice of Truth. The illusion must be maintained.

  4. Out of curiousity, when I read Rilke's somewhat exasperated complaint about all that "whining" ("... and defining"), I feel, in a sense, that he is talking about me: Does anyone else feel that finger point to them?

    "Whining and defining", books as a distraction, why keep on trying to do what "champions of weaving of words" have already done? Is he warning of the temptation to try to say and write too much about the unsayable? That words, even words as luminous as his, can be a distraction and a screen from direct rejoiceful contemplation and observation of crickets and stars?

  5. Yes! Lorenzo, yes, yes! I think you have it directly. Or at least, it feels so for me. And yes, I feel the point, as well. I laugh. He self deprecates here for all artists, the human lot being a pathetic and whining bunch trying trying, trying to understand. But it is a bit of a problem, is it not, for an artist to be silent? Catch 22.

    This is a wonderfully provocative piece.


  6. I so agree Lorenzo! I sensed the slight warmth of an emerging blush, convinced Rilke was wagging his finger at me!

    In our nature to want to 'understand', we work so hard at defining everything. Once defined, we decide we don't like the constraints of the definition and we begin to whine. All the while, missing the significance-laden silence and beauty around us.

    I also had the same reaction as Margaret, thinking 'good thing Rilke doesn't live in these times of information overload'!

  7. I am with you, Ruth — amen, amen, amen! I love books, thinking, and "champions in the weaving of words," but I understand completely the need to stop the "whining and defining" from time to time, and — to use another's bard's words — to remain awake to "tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

  8. I'm new here, but am delighted and inspired by the blog and comments. As do most of you, I attempt to use words -- primarily written words -- to "box in" Truth so it doesn't just slip away. But I also think all the "whining and defining" is my way of sharing, of saying "hey, do you get this, are you there with me? can you confirm the reality of this journey I don't understand?" I know, I know, the only confirmation can come from that still small voice that all that whining ultimately drowns out.

  9. This brought back a memory... Almost 15 years ago I was really trying to learn all the teachings of my faith (aka: rules and regulations :) and I spent hours reading, trying to understand. A priest told me not read too much and I thought "You've got to be kidding me". I thought he had lost his marbles. But I do know now what he meant. He clarified he didn't mean don't read the Bible, just be careful not to replace reading with prayer. He was very wise. Today I understand. There must be a fine balance. And I would hazard a guess that if you HAD to choose one, silence, listening, and prayer are much more important.

  10. Indeed, one cannot underestimate our need to just be quiet and listen and become full. I have to say too, however, that all the racket can also be because we need to share what our hearts hold, and mine more often than not is full of joy at the wonder and wonderful all around me.

  11. Rilke, I think, as a committed artist knew how much got in the way of real work - outer distractions are one thing, but internal noise was so much worse. There was a definite change for him too in the "seeing" poems of New Poems (eg., "The Panther") and later "listening" poems which were a different perception; the later Elegies were "dictated" to the ripened poet, and the Orpheus of The Sonnets is one who builds a temple of listening inside our ears, hallowing that internal space.


"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!