Tuesday, January 20, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Rilke's Bell Tower

What batters us can become our strength. So says Rilke--the pinnacle of the German Romantic Poetry tradition that began with Goethe and went on through Holderlin, Heine, and Novalis. (Jung flowed out of this tradition as well.)

An accident last week left large second degree burns on my legs. So there have been many days of late where I've felt the night is indeed "uncontainable." 

"Let this darkness be a bell tower
 and you the bell." 

I read Rilke's poem for the first time three days after my accident. I've long believed that transformative power can come out of any experience of pain or darkness. But I'd never thought of darkness itself as the bell tower.  

Here is the entire poem:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.


--Rilke/Translated by Joanna Macy
--Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29


We are the mystery, and we are the meaning. If we hold to that, we can ring, flow, and speak in any weather--in darkness and in light, in pain and in joy.


7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 27 for a guest post with poet Linda Robertson.


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