Back when I heard the episode of “Being” with Joanna Macy, I learned of her translations of the German poet Ranier Maria Rilke, including A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Ranier Maria Rilke (2009) (translated and edited with Anita Barrows). I finally got a message from my library that a copy had arrived through interlibrary loan, and I went out of my way to pick it up today. As you might expect, I opened to the passage for May 4, a selection from his “Letters to a Young Poet.” I was pleased to find that it was relevant to the biannual ritual of grading student papers. In addition, I am on Day 3 of a spring cleanse, and Rilke’s transformative comments have struck a tone appropriate to the mindfulness practices which should attend a good cleanse. I’m reading in this passage about the morning walk I have been taking. Mostly it has relevance for us whether we are grading now or not.
I know that your profession is difficult and contrary to your nature. I cannot remove your distress; I can only urge you to consider whether all occupations are not challenging and hostile in some measure to one’s individuality, and saturated with the resentments of those who grimly and sullenly pursue them from duty only. The situation in which you must now live is not more burdened with conventions, prejudices and errors than any other—and even if some occupations appear to offer greater freedom, it is a rare person who is able to stay open to the great matters to shape authentic living. Only the person who accepts solitude can place himself under the deep laws of the universe. When he steps into the fresh morning or out into the event–filled evening, all that is not him falls away, as if he had died, although he stands in the teeming midst of life.
Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet
Friends, may we “stay open to the great matters that shape authentic living” and “place [ourselves] under the deep laws of the universe.”