Daniel Polikoff, who leads the Rilke workshops I attend, is writing his own book on Rilke. I offer his translation of the first two poems from the Book of Hours.
Rilke speaks in these poems in the persona of a monk, a monk who paints icons, thus, he represents art and religion. For Rilke, art and religion are sourced in the human soul.
BOOK OF MONASTIC LIFE
The hour bows down and touches me
with its clear, metallic ring:
my senses shiver. I feel I can
grasp the day as a malleable thing.
Nothing was whole before I beheld it;
all becoming stands still.
My glances are ripe, and like a bride,
to each comes the thing that it wills.
Nothing is too small for me to love
and paint great on a background of gold.
I hold it high, and know not whose
soul it will break from the mold.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across things high and low.
The last one, I may never complete
but will attempt, even so.
I circle around God, the primeval tower,
circle thousands of years long
and still don't know, if I am a falcon, a storm,
or a great song.
I love this poem, and thought it was appropriate that the New Yorker used it this week as the tribute poem to Stanley Kunitz who lived from 1905-2006. Here is Stanley Kunitz's poem on Halley's Comet.
Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the storm tracks
of the Milky Way at a frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there'd be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground's edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
"Repent, ye sinners!" he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I'd share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited, too,
and scarcely touched my plate.
So Mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family's asleep now
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red-brick building
at the foot of Green Street -
that's where we live, you know,on the top floor.
I'm the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.
- Stanley Kunitz
I am in a tender place today. I feel myself opened and newly formed. I work this morning on poems to thank Marin Stables for the gift of the work with the horses. It is difficult for me to write about what is so personal for me. It is hard to know how to thank them for what they have given, hard to even let it all in, and yet, they see us as giving to them. I am with that this morning, the ripple of gentle touch, the lily pads embraced in the pond.
I offer a blank space for you to consider where you are touched today, and when.
Isn't it lovely?
The time with the horses, the mentors, Jim and the other cancer people today was magical. What can I say? I feel that I rode like the wind. I posted easily. I rode on Hallie again. She and I are good friends. I directed her perfectly, even though there is no perfect. Was it only eight week ago that we were directing other humans with a stick? Now, we have graduated to a horse, and perfect conveyance through legs and hip-bones. Yes, it is magic. We were given so many gifts today it is hard to know where to begin. It turns out there are no grants for this program. It is all volunteered. Somehow they see us as the givers. I am sitting with this tonight. The gift of cancer seems to be that I am a giver without really doing anything. Of course, I showed up and had great fun moving Hallie around, guiding her, and riding her. My smiles in all my cells were huge. We were given a framed photo of ourselves for a graduation present. I am hugging Charger. It says it all, since my favorite part was the hugs, and I actually called it Hug Therapy rather than horse therapy. Someone called Mark Rashid or his publisher, and they immediately sent us all a book, Horses Never LIe, The Heart of Passive Leadership. I am sitting touched tonight, reverberating in circles that are more than I could ever know. I have connected with a wonderful group of people. I am welcome anytime at Marin Stables to play with the horses and the people. It is a treasured spot, like an oasis, or Shangri La. I am very touched tonight. I hope you, too, are feeling touched by the sky, the leaves, and the starlight that will soon snuggle depth into our eyes.