Thursday, February 19, 2009

Illusions of darkness, illusions of light

When I was in college one of my closest friends had a well-thumbed copy of Rilke's famous Letters to a Young Poet. She quoted from it frequently -- probably as frequently as I recited to her from my own well-thumbed copy of Thoreau's Walden and so, for some reason, I have resisted acquiring ANYTHING by Rilke all these years. Silly, isn't it, how we allow these early prejudices to block whole realms of experience from us...

Anyway, for some reason -- I can't remember now why -- I recently acquired a copy of Rilke's Book of Hours, and this morning I opened it for the first time. What a marvel it is; the poetry is just wonderful, fresh and lively and full of surprises. My favorite surprise was this poem -- so refreshing, after all I've been reading and writing and hearing lately about darkness:

You, darkness, of whom I am born --

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations -- just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.

I believe in the night.

We forget, sometimes, that we are born of the dark; that all creatures need the dark to refresh and renew. We get so caught up in looking for the light that we forget that the dark is always with us; that instead of being threatening and scary it could also be warm and nurturing and filled with love. We forget also that the light can create its own illusions, masking truth just as effectively as the night.

I thank Rilke for this lovely reminder that -- as the hymn says -- "the night and the day are both alike."

1 comment:

Painter of Blue said...

Pick up Sonnets to Orpheus too. It speaks to me as an artist like few poems have done.