God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
~Rainier Maria Rilke
For some odd reason, all the literature courses I took and works I studied a hell of a long time ago failed to include Rilke into their repitoire. I was fortunate enough to read Blake in the equivalent to 8th grade, and to dissect some of Shakespeare’s more obscure – and less high-school friendly – plays at about the same time. However, trying to get a bunch of 14 year-olds excited about Henry IV parts I and II is no easy task; I may or may not have skipped over significant portions of the latter, having had my fill of old, white men complaining about the state of things and occasionally providing comic relief. (Funny how this somehow ended up in “real life.” Time to pick another industry, perhaps?)
And then later, between Gatsby (again) and plenty of irritatingly dense 18th century drama (from quite a hellish professor who let me scrape by with a “B” as he thought he was doing me a favor) I still somehow missed ever reading Rilke.
Last Christmas, however, my mom threw a magnet with this quote into my stocking, it being incredibly pertinent:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
and not one of those ‘love, live, laugh’ quotable thingies. (They kind of drive me up the wall.) Because, you know, that’s not the kind of family I have, fortunately.
Finally, I got around to listening to a podcast featuring – you guessed it! – Rilke and the woman who translated a selection of his work. And, naturally, the poem I liked best is the one I stuck smack at the top of this totally rambling post, that has now taken me three days to finish. But I digress. Despite its religious undertones, the message to take away here is fantastic: let everything in. Don’t close off to one emotion because it’s frightening, nor cling to the divine because it is preferable to discomfort. In a way, the sensibility reeks of Buddhism, in that it implies one should accept everything and anything that could possibly happen. Especially this relates to emotions and experience.
The initial “letting in” part is terrifying; change is inevitable and no one wants the wonderful to end, the suffering to begin. By to close off oneself is to only life half a life or, as some may believe, barely to live at all.
There’s something wonderfully sad about this poem and by the inevitability of life’s progression. But I believe all anyone can do is simply observe, be open and learn – as much as possible while allowing the beautiful and the terrifying to happen, because each will come to an end at some point. And will begin again.