When ARE We?
Rilke’s Sonnet II,29 from the Sonnets to Orpheus describes a procedure which we are following meditatively line by line and week by week.
It opened with a recognition of the intimate connection between breath and space. (ll.1-2)
It continued through exercises of identification and disidentification (ll. 3-6), culminating in “becoming wine”—with all its Eucharistic and bacchanalian overtones. (ll. 7-8)
This was today’s effort: to allow the suffering of our worst, or one of our worst, moments and at the same time to extend our sense of participation to more of the players or circumstances of the difficult biographical events, becoming the wine rather than its bitterness.
For next week, we’ll complete the overall procedure, which involves two further moves.
First, we gather our dispersed identification-energies into a single point of meaning-making, sensing capacity (“become the magic power”). (ll. 9-11)
Second, we relate again to the earth, as if from out of a post-mortem freedom, while losing nothing of our individuality. (ll.12-14)
For the West it is hard to imagine that we retain our individuality even if we become everything. (We fear the loss of individuality). For the East it is hard to imagine that, even if we become everything, we still retain our individuality. (Eastern styles can seem reluctant to retain individuality).
In this final gesture of the poem, the balance is finely struck. Rilke asks us to expend all that gathered magic power in one go: to move beyond both distinction and merger, and fully to inhabit both of them at the same time. The earth is a rock, and solid, and we are that solidity, and yet it cannot catch or hold us; we escape, we flow. The water rushes, and time tumbles on, and all is lost, and we are that flowing, and for this very reason we experience an inextinguishable, individual, immovable being.
Still friend of the many distances, feel
how your breath increases space still more.
In the dark bell tower’s timber,
let yourself chime. What consumes you 4
grows strong on this kind of food.
Go in and out of transformation.
What is your most agonizing experience?
If drinking is bitter to you, become the wine. 8
Be, in this night of excessiveness,
the magic power at the crossroads of your senses:
their rare encounter’s sense. 11
And if what is earthly forgot you,
to the still earth say: I flow.
To the rushing water speak: I am. 14
At the close of the meeting we share the merit (the accumulated good of the day’s meditation) first with ourselves, then with those whom we find easy to love, then with those to whom we are indifferent, and at last with those whom we find hard -- sometimes very hard -- to love.
All blessings to all,