Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rilke by Robert Bly

 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, 

dies there, 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
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. 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 like to think of it as a little tweak from my guides or angels, or at least my unconscious,  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, but 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 delusion,  or great loss........there are not always "road signs" or certainties along the way.  

What I love about this poem is the 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 the life he has been leading, but not himself. In conventional morality, he is to be despised for his abandonment. Yet, such is the beginning of Siddartha's quest to become the Buddha, leaving behind his responsibilities as a prince, father and husband, the quest that led to the birth of Buddhism.  Morality is many layered and has many shades of grey.

"A House of Doors" (1986)

The one who remains in Rilke's poem, "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.  His labors (and domestic pleasures) have resulted in the lives and sustanance of his children.     But his choice to not take the spiritual journey to that "church somewhere in the east" at some point in his life, to forget, to close the door, leaves a residue that ghosts within the house of his life. 

Thus, his children, or perhaps his grand children,  are left with with a destiny, which is  to fulfill the quest that  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: 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 from the 80's are a national treasure that, sadly, have been largely forgotten.


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Good post! Lights going on. Illumination. Yes, I like that very much!

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Just wanted to let you know the black butterfly post goes up tomorrow. Just re-read it and love it as much as I did the first time I read it. Many thanks!