53 – “Who has turned us around like this …?”

While I am on a vacation I would like to introduce you, if already not familiar with it, to the beauty and poignant relevance today as when it was written in the 1920s of Rilke’s Eighth Elegy:

With all its eyes the creature
sees the open. Our eyes alone are
as if turned back, and placed all around,
like traps, encircling its free escape.
What is outside we know only
from the animal’s face; and we even
twist the young child around and force it to look
at created things, not at the open
deep in the creature’s face. Free from death.
But death we alone can see: the free animal
always hast its demise behind it
and God before, and when it walks it walks
into eternity, like the flowing of a spring.
We never, not for a single day, have
before us the pure space into which flowers
endlessly open. Always it is world,
and never nowhere without the no: that pure,
unsurveilled element one breathes and
infinitely knows, without desiring. As a child,
one may lose oneself to it in silence, and be
shaken back. Or die and be it.
For close to death, we stop seeing death,
and stare beyond, perhaps with the vast gaze of animals.
Lovers, if the other were not there,
obstructing the view, come near to it and marvel …
As if by oversight it opens up to each
behind the other … But neither can
get past, and once again it is world.
Always turned toward the created, we see
what’s free only in its reflection,
darkened by us. Or that an animal, mute,
looks up and calmly looks through us.
This we call fate: to stand opposite
and nothing else and forever opposite.

If consciousness like ours existed in that
confident animal heading toward us
from another direction –, it would whip us round
in its wake. But for the animal,
its being is infinite, unfettered, unconcerned
with its own condition, pure as its outward gaze.
And where we see future, it sees everything,
and itself in everything, forever healed.

And yet in the watchful, warm animal is
the weight and care of a deep sadness.
For what so often overwhelms us
adheres in the animal as well, – a memory,
as if all that we seek
had been closer once, more true, its ties to us
infinitely tender. Here all is separation,
there it was breath. After the first home, the second
seems a hybrid place, wind-blown.
O bliss of the tiny creature who
remains forever in the womb that bore it:
O happiness of the gnat, who still leaps within,
even on its wedding-day: for womb is all.
And see the half-assurance of the bird,
who by birth almost knows both worlds,
as if it were a soul of the Etruscans,
freed from a dead person, and received in a new space,
but with the same reclining figure as the lid.
And how crestfallen is the womb-born creature
who has to fly. As if startled
by itself, it zigzags through the air, like a crack
through a cup. So the tracery of a bat
rends the porcelain of evening.

And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
facing all this, never the beyond.
It overfills us. We arrange it. It falls apart.
We arrange it again, and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this, so that
whatever we do, we find ourselves in the attitude
of someone going away? Just as the person
on the last hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, turns, stops, lingers –,
so we live, forever taking our leave.*

The power of our Minds … to comprehend and envision the Universe from which we are created and into which we unfold … is imprisoned by a demeaning and self-destructive old paradigm: A paradigm that is inflexibly perpetuating Ignorance and inciting Separation. Yet a new paradigm based on Knowledge … where we see everything and ourselves in everything … is just outside the crumbling walls of the old paradigm.

* Translated by Galway Kinnell & Hanna Liebmann

Note: New posts are usually published on the 1st and 15th of the month.

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