Most of us avoid the descent into our inner lives because we fear we'll meet more darkness there than light. And often we do. It's easier to stay outside, on the surface of things, and ignore the depths. Some of us have no guide for the inner journey toward healing and wholeness.
Rainer Maria Rilke is one of the modern world's most insightful, spiritually-grounded, and beloved poets. I love the way he bridges the two worlds, inner and outer, sacred and secular, and always invites me into the depth of soul I need in order to come more fully alive.
He gives me courage to enter the labyrinth of the soul.
His poetic vision is a helpful partner to anyone who wants to integrate their lives more fully.
Here's a sonnet that invites us into the courage it takes to enter our inner lives and face the pain and suffering we'd rather avoid.
It's a poetic exploration of the themes Dr. Donald Kalsched, the eminent psychoanalyst, explores in his work on trauma, how suffering blocks our life energy, and what it takes for the soul to emerge into the fullness of life.
Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows have a wonderful translation of this sonnet, as does Robert Bly, and Robert Hunter. I've lived with Rilke for awhile and with the ways this poem guides not only my own inner journey but also my healing work with others. And so, I've rendered it myself. It's impossible to take a poem over from the German into English without allowing the language to dance in new ways. This rendering is true to the spiritual vision of the great poet, attempts to offer some sense of the lyricism of the German, while drawing it through my own soul's experience and into our new setting.
Sonnets to Orpheus, No 9
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated/rendered by Chris Neufeld-Erdman
Only you, who dare to lift the lyre
inside the inner labyrinth and maze,
will find the pathway back into the light
of endless gratefulness and praise.
Only you, who on death's bitter flowers
have slept and fed,
will sing a living song
to what was given up for dead.
What shimmers on the pane between the worlds
will quickly slip away;
internalize what you behold.
When born of these two realms
our words and ways
become more valuable than gold.