Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Last House

Rainer Maria Rilke

I tend to read the same poets again and again.  At those readings, I often hear Mark Twain chuckle and say, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

Note - if you are a serious student of Mark Twain, you know that most Samuel Clemens scholars have come to the conclusion that he didn't say that.  But since we don't know who did, and it sounds like something he would have said, I'm sure I'll continue hearing him say it every time I pick up Basho or Bly, Buson or Cummings, Barks or Lawrence, and especially when I read Rilke.  

Since I first crossed paths with Rainer Maria Rilke, at least forty years ago, I've walked much further along the way he knew and described, such that I feel it passing beneath my feet as I reread his words.  I smell its rich earthy scent on the wind, when I close my eyes and recall particularly meaningful passages.

Then I know the soul of the Panther of whom Rilke said:

Only sometimes the curtains of the pupils
soundlessly slide up.  Then an image enters,
goes through the limbs taut stillness -
and in the heart ceases to exist.

And now, more than any time since Rainer Maria Rilke and I first met, I know what he meant when he wrote:

Whoever you are, go out in the evening,
Leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite...

I also know why many of his translators omit that last line from their translation of Initiation.  It is startling when one first realizes that the only thing that separates each of us from the oneness of all is the flimsy affair that we've constructed from rumors, tales, misconceptions, and lies: the thing we call home.


  1. Rilke's thoughts are beautiful, and awesome for contemplation. Thank you, Bert!

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