Last night I was feeling a little bit of existential, or was it seasonal, angst. Something about the quality of the light and the length of the day, and knowing that they won’t be getting longer for a while weighed heavily upon me. For all my talk of festivals of light and interiority, I was up against it. Feeling the twinge, I can completely understand why some people experience seasonal affective disorder, particularly in these northern climes. But trolling my Tumblr dashboard this morning I found a gem in Being’s response to an anonymous listener, looking for some poetry heard on the show. It included this treasure from Rilke, read by Joanna Macy, about both of whom I have blogged before.
Joanna Macy reads “Onto a Vast Plain” by Rainer Maria Rilke.
“Onto a Vast Plain”
by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.
The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.
Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
Book of Hours, II 1
It’s no picnic, this work to live mindfully. It requires we cultivate steadfastness in and openness to the trackless, tameless places. May your practice help you to “[b]e earth now, and evensong.”