I am the rest between two notes, which are somehow always in discord because Death’s note wants to climb over— but in the dark interval, reconciled, they stay there trembling. And the song goes on, beautiful. ~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”
On Sunday evenings I often feel I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through a too-brief weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week. As I prepare to sleep at the end of a Sabbath day, I feel uneasily in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known behind.
This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is my moment of reconciliation: my Sabbath extended.
This evening, I will allow myself a steeply sloping hour of silence and reflection before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, yet beautiful nevertheless.
Even the least harmonious notes resolve within the next chord. I will move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.
Trembling, still trembling, always trembling at what is to come.
He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was;
but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him,
and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.
He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome. ~Kenneth Grahame, from Wind in the Willows (about the Mole and his home at Mole End)
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
As a child, I would sometimes spend long rainy afternoons languishing on the couch at home, complaining to my mother how boring my life was. Her typical response was to remind me my boredom said more about me than about life – I became the accused, rather than the accuser, failing to summon up life’s riches. Thus convicted, my sentence followed: she would promptly give me chores to do. I learned not to voice my complaints about life because it always meant work.
Some things haven’t changed, even fifty five years later. Whenever I am tempted to feel pitiful or bored, accusing my life of being poor or unfair, I need to remember what that says about me. There is a whole world out there to explore, plenty of work needing doing and always a welcome home when I return.
If I’m not poet enough to celebrate the gilded edge of the plain and simple, if I’m not poet enough to articulate beauty even in the sharp thorns of life, if I’m not poet enough to recognize the Creator’s brilliance in every molecule, then it is my poverty I’m accusing, not his.
Back to work then. There is a life to be lived, a world to experience and words to be written.
And it is good to think we have all this to come back to, this place which is all our own.
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river? Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air – An armful of white blossoms, A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies, Biting the air with its black beak? Did you hear it, fluting and whistling A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall Knifing down the black ledges? And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds – A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river? And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life? ~Mary Oliver from “Swan”
This laboring of ours with all that remains undone, as if still bound to it, is like the lumbering gait of the swan.
And then our dying—releasing ourselves from the very ground on which we stood— is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself
into the water. It gently receives him, and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him, as wave follows wave, while he, now wholly serene and sure, with regal composure, allows himself to glide. ~Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Swan”
And could it be that I too,
awkward and lumbering through my days
may glide and soar when afloat or aloft.Could it be there is beauty hidden away and within
until I change how I look at life,
how I move in the air that I’m given to breathe
and how I am stretched by the Light that illuminates me?
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away? ~William Butler Years from “The Wild Swans at Coole”
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up, as if orchards were dying high in space. Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.” And tonight the heavy earth is falling away from all other stars in the loneliness. We’re all falling. This hand here is falling. And look at the other one. It’s in them all. And yet there is Someone, whose hands infinitely calm, holding up all this falling. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Autumn” translated by Robert Bly
Sometimes I wake from my sleep
with a palpitating start:
dreaming of falling,
my body pitching and tumbling
yet somehow I land,
~oh so softly~
in my bed,
my fear quashed and cushioned by
I feel caught up,
rescued amid the fall
we all will do,
like leaves drifting down
from heaven’s orchard,
like seeds released like kisses
into the air,
the earth rises to meet me
and Someone cradles me there.
Lord: it is time. The summer was immense. Let fall your shadows on the sundials, upon the fields let loose your winds.
Command the last fruits to be full; give them just two more southern days, Press them to completion, and chase the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who has no house now – he will never build. Whoever is alone now, long will so remain; will stay awake, and read, and write long letters and wander the alleys up and down, restless, as the leaves are drifting. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
As summer slowly winds down over the next few days, fatigue is settling like a fog over all things. After months of immense energy and growth and flourish and heat, there is now weariness and dryness and wilting.
A good rain yesterday helped ready us for the change. We who are thirsty had a good slurp and still beg for more. Restless, we are loosening like tired leaves, preparing to lose our grip and be freed to drift, landing softly wherever the next breeze will take us.
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She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen into her, so that, like an audience, she can look them over, menacing and sullen, and curl to sleep with them. But all at once
as if awakened, she turns her face to yours; and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny, inside the golden amber of her eyeballs suspended, like a prehistoric fly. ~Rainer Maria Rilke from “Black Cat”
Bobbi arrived on the farm 14 years ago after living a life of luxury in town. She couldn’t accompany her owner to life in the big city so moved in complete with a van full of her own cat furniture, a personal chair, toys, and special cuisine. When she strode out of her cat carrier, took a look around and climbed into the nearest tree, she never looked back at the accoutrements of her former full time indoor life. She became queen of the farm, undisputed and regal, watching the goings-on from a carefully calculated and royal distance, never interacting with her subjects unless it was absolutely necessary.
She tolerated other cats, but barely. They scattered when she came in view. She thought dogs were a waste of fur covering empty skulls, but when they met her needs, like on a chilly night, she would happily bunk down with them. They were astonished but grateful for her royal blessing when she decided to sleep among them: a two-dog and one-cat night.
She chose only one person to be subject to: our daughter-in-law Tomomi. On Tomomi’s first visit from Japan, Bobbi approached her and decided then and there they were meant for each other. During Tomomi’s annual summer visits, Bobbi brought her mice on the welcome mat and followed her like a puppy, coming only when Tomomi called, and deigned to allow her to touch her calico coat.
Earlier this year, nearly 16 years old, Bobbi took over the front porch bench when our black cat Jose died. She liked to stay a bit closer to us, but seemed thinner and less disdainful. When two kittens arrived to live in the barn this summer and within a week formed a coup and took over the front porch, Bobbi retreated again to her other quarters on the farm. I worried a bit that she had given in too easily with no yowls or flying fur.
Yesterday morning she lay still on the grassy slope out front – she was never one to take her naps where her subjects could see her. I knew her long life was over.
Long live Queen Bobbi. May you forever reign in our hearts.
… And now in vast, cold, empty space, alone. Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart, A longing for the first world, the ancient one … Then, from His place of ambush, God leapt out.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke