May 19, 2011

Nothing to Frighten Us

Sheaves of Wheat in a Field

We are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set around us; there is nothing that should frighten or torment us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through millennia of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly, that we, when we hold still, through a happy mimicry, can hardly be distinguished from everything that surrounds us.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet


  1. Like sheaves of wheat, our life, as Rilke writes it, is a happy mimicry of "everything that surrounds us" -- a harvest greater than any silo. That is, when we realize that "we are not prisoners." Elsewhere in the Letters Rilke says that gestation is everything; here he says adaptation is all: perhaps there is as little difference between the two as there is between our nature and nature's, between I and Thou, poet and landscape, word and world ... Brendan

  2. It really does come to this, doesn't it? I have gone back to Erin's current piece "the artists" again and again, for I feel there is something there in her poem about Miss Jane and in the comments about what is here in Rilke today, and in your response, Brendan. But I can't quite nail what the connection is. Is it passion? Is it feeling? Is it becoming one with what is outside so that after it's transformed inside, what comes out is pure, fresh, real? And resembles us. It's sort of like what I wrote the other day:

    When what is inside comes out
    the order of the world
    finds form
    that looks like you

  3. Let me add that I agree with what you have said at Erin's and elsewhere lately, that all this comes at a cost. I am realizing that I am loving getting old! Not the old body, I could do without the creaks and aches. But the mind and heart that have been stretched and massaged so long, and this work we do here at this blog, the discourse, and elsewhere too, these things cost something in our real lives where our fingertips, arms, legs, mouths and especially our hearts, get a real workout. When the work is done inside, what comes out might seem simple, and clear, as with Rilke's words. But always, there has been great, deep work leading to it. We know this, and that is what resonates so, so profoundly inside, and sometimes we just can't express it.

  4. Yes, there is a cost -- imagine the years of study and practice that has gone into this, the rigor of sitting motionless for so many hours, the toll on the phalanges (millions of keystrokes later, my fingers are slowly going numb). And the ruthlessness of truth, which will not accept yesterday's articulation or draft, and strains for the words to become more identical with the world. Passion demands sacrifice (again, that Latin root of "passion" is passio to be "nailed", giving up our only begotten life for intangibles like Art and Heart. Yet haven't you found that the things you suffered the most for -- your children, for example -- are also the very source of greatest contentment, even happiness, in this life? What would this life have meant without so much strenuous pouring-out of words? Sometimes the duty of it is a form of bondage, chained to an endless procession of words across and down a page, ad infinitum ad nauseum: especially when there are so few tangible results: and knowing that so little of it, if any, will survive after we are gone: But to have held this mirror up to nature for such duration,and become intimate with so many Things: How could we have existed otherwise? Growing old isn't all that fun, though it is a joy to be freed of some of the errancies and confusions and false idolotry of my youth. I just hope I'll be encouraged to become a more vast explorer, as Eliot suggested old men ought to be in Four Quartets. Youth is wasted on the young, as wealth is on the rich, and beauty on the beautiful ... To us all of if, if only on the inside, if only in the saying... eventually ...perhaps in tomorrow's draft, the sheaves of the next age ...... - Brendan

  5. Love what you're all saying. Wish my form would "come out".

    Come out come out wherever you are. I'm waiting...

  6. Perhaps the expression is not in the words but in the spaces between the words; that the connection is not between the sheaf of corn and the insects that feed on it but in the elements -the air, the sun, etc - that touch them all and to which all adapt, linked through invisible gossamer threads. Perhaps those threads are not connected through passion, or feeling but sensation - that which we hear, touch, taste etc of those elements we barely understand but sustain us all

  7. Anita, it sounds as if you are describing the letters that speak from the beyond. The words that you hear can actually physically be seen. It's just that they line up on a diagonal, and their shapes or outlines are defined not by the presented words meaning nor by what is not written, but are visible letters of written language the is quietly whispered when you look for their shape in the blank spaces in between the letters, words and sentences that appear.

    there are actual words written in letters, that show themselves in the space occupied by blank spot on a page.


"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!