Winter Solstice: “…oh, the night…”

 

Yesterday, I lost the sun at 4 p.m.  I arose this morning at 6:30 a.m.  It is still dark.  There is no snow on the ground, but the air hovers at the freezing point.  I wish I were in New Mexico still, where the stars are so close.  Steve read me a poem yesterday, and I’ve been trying to digest it ever since.  There are so many heavy, rich ideas in it: angelic terror, love and death.  And then there are sensual images I recognize immediately and viscerally, like this one: “…the night, when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces…”   It made me think of exiting my tent in New Mexico, turning my face upward, and beholding the heavens.  The translation I’m working with is by A. Poulin, Jr.  It is quite long.  Take it in doses.  Meditate on parts that speak directly to you.  Search for your own vibration in the Void.  

Rainer Marie Rilke — The First Elegy from Duino Elegies:

And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic

orders?  Even if one of them suddenly held me

to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming

presence.  Because beauty’s nothing

but the start of terror we can hardly bear,

and we adore it because of the serene scorn

it could kill us with.   Every angel’s terrifying. 

   So I control myself and choke back the lure

of my dark cry.  Ah, who can we turn to,

then?  Neither angels nor men,

and the animals already know by instinct

we’re not comfortably at home

in our translated world.  Maybe what’s left

for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at

day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,

and the perverse affection of a habit

that liked us so much it never let go.

arboretum in winter

     And the night, oh the night when the wind

full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,

gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely

heart — she’d stay on for anyone.  Is she easier on lovers?

But they use each other to hide their fate.

   You still don’t understand?  Throw the emptiness in

your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds

will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.

Yes.  Springs needed you.  Many stars

waited for you to see them.  A wave

that had broken long ago swelled toward you,

or when you walked by an open window, a violin

gave itself.  All that was your charge.

But could you live up to it?  Weren’t you always

distracted by hope, as if all this promised

you a lover?  (Where would you have hidden her,

with all those strange and heavy thoughts

flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)

When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;

their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough. 

You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,

could love you so much more than those you loved.

Begin again.  Try out your impotent praise again;

think about the hero who lives on: even his fall

was only an excuse for another life, a final birth. 

But exhausted nature draws all lovers back

into herself, as if there weren’t the energy

to create them twice.  Have you remembered

Gaspara Stampa well enough?  From that greater love’s

example, any girl deserted by her lover

can believe:  “If only I could be like her!”

Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more

fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed

us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:

as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum

becomes more than itself.  Because to stay is to be nowhere.

ancient sufferingVoices, voices.  My heart, listen as only

saints have listened: until some colossal

sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,

they listened so intently that, impossible

creatures, they kept on kneeling.  Not that you could

endure the voice of God!   But listen to the breathing,

the endless news growing out of silence,

rustling toward you from those who died young.

Whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,

didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?

Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,

like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.

What do they want from me?  That I gently wipe away

the look of suffered injustice sometimes

hindering the pure motion of spirits a little. 

It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth

anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,

not giving the meaning of a human future

to roses and other things that promise so much;

no longer being what you used to be

in hands that were always anxious,

throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.

It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore.  Strange

to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering

in space.  And it’s hard being dead and straining

to make up for it until you can begin to feel

a trace of eternity.  But the living are wrong

to make distinctions that are too absolute.

Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether

they move among the living or the dead.

The eternal torrent hurls all ages through

both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.

At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;

we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently

as we outgrow our mother’s breast.  But we, who need

such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress

so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?

Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament for Linos,

the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,

and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned

by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt

that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?

mysteryThe cloudy sky grows lighter.  I wish you peace, my friends, in your night and in your darkened day. 

11 thoughts on “Winter Solstice: “…oh, the night…”

  1. Pingback: Winter Solstice – The Cosmic Wind | scillagrace

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