January 15th, 2012

0007 Rilke on Solitude by Michael Shepherd

0007 Rilke on Solitude

If you notice that solitude is great,
rejoice because of this.
For what would solitude be
that had no greatness? There is
but one solitude, and that is great,
and not easy to bear,
and to almost everybody come hours
when they would gladly erxchange it for any sort of intercourse,
however banal and cheap; with the first comer,
with the unworthiest...

but perhaps those are the very hours
when solitude grows, for
its growing is as painful as the growing of boys
and sad as the beginning of springtimes.

To be solitary, the way one was solitary as a child,
when the grownups went around involved with things
that seemed important and big
because they themselves looked so busy
and because one comprehended nothing of their doings.

Be close to things; they will not desert you;
there are the nights still
and the winds that go through the trees
and across many lands;
among things and with the animals
everything is still full of happening
in which you may participate;

and children are still the way you were as a child,
sad like that and happy,
- and if you think of your childhood
you live among them again.

(Abstracted from Rilke's letters to a young poet)

Michael Shepherd

Submitted Date : Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Comments about this poem (0007 Rilke on Solitude by Michael Shepherd
0007 Rilke on Solitude by Michael Shepherd

A Shared Experience

Dianne and I love each other, we enjoy each others silent company, but we have very few "interests in common."  We are both "spiritual people" (she is, and i try to be) but we experience our spiritualities separately and silently and it is only very rarely that one of us will try to communicate his or her insides to the other's outsides.  She likes casino gambling while i hate it (material for a long separate post).  She would love to do many things beyond her body's physical ability to endure, while i prefer a book or just plain silence.  Finding a movie that we can enjoy together  is a real challenge.  So last night we were watching the movie based on Awakenings, sitting side by side, enjoying it.  Robin Williams ("Dr. Sayers" aka Oliver Sacks) is trying to communicate with Rober DiNero (Leonard?) one of a ward full of Parkinsonians patients using a Ouiji Board.  DiNiro spells out something that turns out to be a library reference number with a citation to a book of Rilke's poetry, and specifically to the poem, Das Panther, which turns out to be an excellent description of a Parkinson's patient locked inside his rigid and uncooperative body,  Williams reads the poem sitting in the Bronx Zoo outside the panther cage and then to a seemingly non-responsive DiNero.

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

   -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Der Panther

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
So müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
Der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
Ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
In der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
Sich lautlos auf. - Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille -
Und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke

(Apologies to abendstille , The German version was not in the movie, but not knowing any better, i found the English translation beautiful)  We both exclaimed over the poem and i commented that the first time we watched
the movie i had only the vaguest notion of who Rilke was.   Dianne replied that she still didn't know who Rilke was.  So i printed out a couple of my favorite poems or fragments plus three others i thought might be more to her liking.  Then who knows, maybe some John O'Donohue, or  Mary Oliver or  Wendell Berry, and perhaps eventually some Rumi.

And She Would!

We overheard this "save your marriage" type speaker and he mentioned that he and his spouse "read the Bible together daily"
So i asked Dianne what she would do if i suggested that we read the Bible together.  She said: "I would probably hit you with it."
(Background: she loves and respects the Bible far more than i do; and i did, many, many years ago read Carlos Casteneda aloud to her to our mutual enjoyment.-- in case you are worried, neither of us ever thought he was for real, but his fictionalizing of phenomenological philosophy was fun.)