Rilke is one of those writers and poets who is never far from my side. Strangely, I'd never read his prose work The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge until recently. It's not as remarkable as the wise and wonderful Letters to a Young Poet, but I was struck by the following two short passages:
Poems don't come to much when they are written too soon. One should wait and gather the feelings and flavours of a whole life, and a long life if possible, and then, just at the end, one might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people suppose, emotions — those come easily and quickly enough. They are experiences . . .
. . . No, no, nothing in the world can one imagine beforehand, not the least thing. Everything is made up of so many unique particulars that cannot be foreseen. In imagination one passes them over and does not notice that they are lacking, hasty as one is. But the realities are slow and indescribably detailed.
Rilke writes about all the important things — the poignancy of transitoriness, the necessity of solitude, the praising of creation in all its diversity, the recognition of love in all its complexity, the radiance of life which sparkles in spite of and, indeed, because of the ever-present nature of death; his poems, and many of his letters and prose pieces, may be considered deep meditations on existence. His artistic territory straddles the borderline between the expressible and the inexpressible.
There's a very fine book on my shelf called A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, beautifully translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows. The entry for 29 April, from a letter written to Witold Hulewicz on 13 November 1925, reads:
Impermanence plunges us into the depth of all Being. And so all forms of the present are not to be taken and bound in time, but held in a larger context of meaning in which we participate. I don't mean this in a Christian sense (from which I ever more passionately distance myself) but in a sheer earthly, deep earthly, sacred earthly consciousness: that what we see here and now is to bring us into a wider — indeed, the very widest — dimension. Not in an afterlife whose shadow darkens the earth, but in a whole that is the whole.
Finally, here's a poem taken from The Book of Hours:
How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.