The world has been pretty crazy for the past month or two which has understandably led to people feeling anxious and unprepared. During this time, it is important to take care of yourself and reflect on life.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is often considered one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets. Like many poets, Rilke wasn’t known to the public until after his death. He was later recognized for his work about beauty coexisting with suffering or life coexisting with death. Rilke struggled to find the deeper meaning behind life through art and often had doubts about whether a higher being really existed. Throughout his works, Rilke refers to God and shows his internal struggle of whether he believes in a higher being or not
Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, published in 1905, is one of his most popular works, though is regarded as too abstract by some critics. In this book, Rilke included the poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” which delves on the idea of relying on a higher being and also shows the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering that is prevalent in most of his work. Even if the reader doesn’t personally believe in a god, this poem has a lot to say about what’s going on in the world currently:
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.”
“Go to the Limits of Your Longing” is certainly about being an image of the Christian God, but it’s also about accepting life as it is given to you.
The lines “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final” speaks to the world’s current state and how, although things are bad currently, these feelings and problems will pass eventually. Rilke calls for the reader to experience everything about life because without suffering there would be no beauty.
This passage also appears in Jojo Rabbit, a comedy/war drama about the Holocaust by Taika Waititi, and speaks heavily to the themes of that movie. It’s a beautiful passage to live by and to use to reflect on life.
Though times are tough, there are always ways to find beauty in the world around us, including through poetry or even just the view outside of your window.