Friday, February 4, 2011

The Swan

I stumbled on this wonderful poem by the great writer Rainer Maria Rilke yesterday:

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Bly

I love this poem. At first blush it seems to be about nothing but life and death; the difficulties of living and the ease of death, once we nervously approach it, come to accept it, and peacefully, even joyfully, lower ourselves into it.

But i see a lot more buried inside those words. I see descriptions of the hardships inherent in living a superficial, future-oriented life, that is clumsy at best, and the ease of a calm, joyous life when we see through that superficiality and meld our lives, our activities, out thoughts, with that essence that is who we really are.

When the focus of our lives is always pointed away from now, always looking at what is not yet done, what we have to do, what is upcoming, we bind ourselves to dissatisfaction and angst. Life becomes awkward.

When, on the other hand, we let go of the ego's attachment to the beliefs, rules, patterns, and formulas that it clings to desperately day after day, we find that Life welcomes us with open arms. For those approaching this release for the first time, it can be a nervous encounter, wondering what might happen, what they might find and become. Once settled, however, the absolute beauty of that ensuing calmness, that reassuring total support, brings more growth into your life than you ever imagined possible.

This poem has gotten under my skin just like Rilke's Sometimes A Man Stands Up During Supper did over a year ago. There is something about these two poems that seems to just sit there on the tip of my tongue demanding that i speak to them until a message becomes clear. It took months for Sometimes A Man, so i'm sure i'll be spending many more mornings thinking about this new one.

Let me ponder for a while longer and i'll post more thoughts then.

Robert Bly seems to be to Rilke what Coleman Barks is to Rumi — the wings that allow them to soar to unimaginable heights. For budget reasons i said i wasn't going to buy ANY books this year, but i really wonder if i need to break that promise and buy Robert Bly's Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, which contains both of these poems???????????????????????????


Venkat said...

So wonderful words... the poem I could understand only after reading your explanation. Superb


Jack Zettler said...

By all means buy that book! "Selected Poems" translated by Robt Bly Thje copy I bought years ago is so used up. I might have to buy a new one soon.
Jack Zettler