Hello all, I hope your day has been kind.
Rilke’s poem for today, 13 January 2015, spoke to me and I would like to share it with you:
Be ahead of all parting, as if it had
like winter which even now is passing.
For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the
Be forever dead in Eurydice, and climb
Climb praising as you return to
Here among the disappearing, in the
realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.
Be. And know as well the need to not be:
let that ground of all that changes
bring you to completion now.
To all that has run its course, and to the
numbers of beings abounding in Nature,
add yourself gladly, and cancel the cost.
(Sonnets to Orpheus II, A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings)
In Greek mythology, Eurydice was an oak nymph or one of the daughters of Apollo (the god of music, who also drove the sun chariot, ‘adopting’ the power as god of the Sun from the primordial god Helios.) She was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music.
Here is the story which gives you a taste from where Rilke could be presenting from:
Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. He was presented by his father with a lyre and taught to play upon it, and he played to such perfection that nothing could withstand the charm of his music. Not only his fellow mortals, but wild beasts were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by their fierceness, and stood entranced with his lay. Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men, and finding it all unavailing resolved to seek his wife in the regions of the dead. He descended by a cave situated on the side of the promontory of Taenarus and arrived at the Stygian realm.
He passed through crowds of ghosts, and presented himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. As he sang these tender strains, the very ghosts shed tears. Tantalus, in spite of his thirst, stopped for a moment his efforts for water, Ixion’s wheel stood still, the vulture ceased to tear the giant’s liver, the daughters of Danaus rested from their task of drawing water in a sieve, and Sisyphus sat on his rock to listen.
Then for the first time, it is said, the cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears. Proserpine could not resist, and Pluto himself gave way. Eurydice was called. She came from among the new-arrived ghosts, limping with her wounded foot. Orpheus was permitted to take her away with him on one condition that he should not turn round to look at her till they should have reached the upper air. Under this condition they proceeded on their way, he leading, she following, through passages dark and steep, in total silence, till they had nearly reached the outlet into the cheerful upper world, when Orpheus, in a moment of forgetfulness, to assure himself that she was still following, cast a glance behind him, when instantly she was borne away.
Stretching out their arms to embrace one another they grasped only the air. Dying now a second time she yet cannot reproach her husband, for how can she blame his impatience to behold her? “Farewell,” she said, “a last farewell,” and was hurried away, so fast that the sound hardly reached his ears.
Orpheus endeavoured to follow her, and besought permission to return and try once more for her release but the stern ferryman repulsed him and refused passage. Seven days he lingered about the brink, without food or sleep; then bitterly accusing of cruelty the powers of Erebus, he sang his complaints to the rocks and mountains, melting the hearts of tigers and moving the oaks from their stations. He held himself aloof from womankind, dwelling constantly on the recollection of his sad mischance.
The Thracian maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their advances. They bore with him as long as they could; but finding him insensible, one day, one of them, excited by the rites of Bacchus, exclaimed, “See yonder our despiser!” and threw at him her javelin. The weapon, as soon as it came within the sound of his lyre, fell harmless at his feet. So did also the stones that they threw at him. But the women raised a scream and drowned the voice of the music, and then the missiles reached him and soon were stained with his blood. The maniacs tore him limb from limb, and threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they floated, murmuring sad music, to which the shores responded a plaintive symphony.
The Muses gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at Libethra, where the nightingale is said to sing over his grave more sweetly than in any other part of Greece. His lyre was placed by Jupiter among the stars. His shade passed a second time to Tartarus, where he sought out his Eurydice and embraced her, with eager arms. They roam through those happy fields together now, sometimes he leads, sometimes she; and Orpheus gazes as much as he will upon her, no longer incurring a penalty for a thoughtless glance.
What a story eh? That’s Greek mythology for you! It’s so beautifully written and translated. I wish I had that skill!
Rilke is always very suggestive in his writings, a perfect example of ‘show but not tell’.
I think that the poem above ‘Be Ahead Of All Parting’ is a metaphor of Death, alongside Life. The parting also speaks of the transient, ever-changing, seasons in life and not just winter. As always, Rilke interweaves, beautifully, both life and death, in his poetry. They do after all co-exist and made possible because of each other’s presence just like light and darkness. What I’m struck by especially, is the line “Be. And know as well the need to not be.”
That, to me, is the HEART of the poem.
It speaks of knowing when and where to be present in one’s life and when to let go. This fine art of waiting, listening, trusting and only then, when you know it’s time to act, ACT, is so much a part of my life now. And I can honestly say to you, from my heart, it works. But not so easy to do.
May you meet your days with trust, knowing when to be, and when to not be. As Paulo Coelho gently reminds us, “what’s important will stay”.
Be kind to yourselves.