Sometime in the 1980's, someone gave me a collection of Rilke translated by Robert Bly, and I find he is still my favorite translator of the German mystical poet. In graduate school I did a performance with synthesizer based on this beautiful poem, and a series I called "Landscapes from Rilke". Yesterday the poem popped into my head. I had been thinking, while driving around on seemingly endless errands, that I have become too resigned, I have perhaps traded too much "mature realism" for the spiritual quest that used to animate my art and life.
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors,
and keeps on walking,
because of a church
that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children
say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man,
who remains inside his own house,
inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children
have to go far out into the world
toward that same church,
which he forgot.
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly
Although it was broad daylight, I noticed, as I parked, that the interior light above the dashboard was on. I'm pretty certain I didn't turn it on, especially since it was day, but it's always possible. I prefer to think of it as a little tweak from my guides or angels, trying to get my attention by demonstrating a "light bulb going on".
Rilke's poem is about the call that can come to seek a deeper life, to find the empowerment that comes from that source, to become a "source - er". Not all people are called. For some of those who do hear the sound of distant bells, the "church that lies somewhere in the east" may be a monastery, for others, a studio, or an orphanage, or a university, or a trail that leads into the silent cathedral of a canyon or a forest. Sometimes the seemingly unmarked trail to that church can feel like madness, or great loss.
What I love about this poem is the multiplicity of profound connectivity Rilke implies.
The man who "keeps on walking" is one who heeds the call of that spiritual quest because he feels he no longer has any other choice. He realizes that nothing else will matter if he remains. He abandons his children, but not himself. In conventional morality, he is to be despised for his abandonment of those who depend upon him. Yet, such is the beginning of Siddartha's quest to become the Buddha, leaving behind his responsibilites as a prince, father and husband.
"A House of Doors" (1986)
The one who remains "in the dishes and the glasses", who does not leave, is neither right or wrong. He has chosen to remain, to find meaning in the love and duties of family and social responsibility. But his choice to not take the spiritual journey to that "church somewhere in the east" at some point in his life, to entirely forget, to close the door, leaves a residue that ghosts within the house of his life. His children are left with with a destiny to fulfill what he did not.
**On a note less grand, I found myself remembering a story on one of the cd's by Celestial Navigations ** called "Get That Out of the Way". The narrator moves through his life like an inventory of tasks he has to get through. When he finds himself finally worrying that dying may be kind of painful, and if there is an easy way to "get that out of the way".................he pauses at last to wonder if he's, maybe, been missing something. Moral of this aside: if you find your life has become a laundry list, by all means, stand up and walk outside, throw away the planner, and keep going until you've regained your sanity. Or lost it, and good riddance.
Celestial Navigations, a team of storytellers and musicians that have been collaborating since the 1970's, are a national treasure. Their cd's, current and titles from the 80's such as "ICE" and "Rock and Roll", can be purchased on their website: http://www.celestialnavigations.com