Here's my most recent translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem from his Sonnets to Orpheus, Part 1, Number 19. Rilke writes during another time of cultural and political tumult. This poem is part of a collection of 55 poems written in 1922 during what he called "a savage creative storm." It's not strange that I'm drawn these days to writers and artists who worked a century ago (C.G. Jung, Herman Hesse, Teilhard de Chardin, John Muir, and so on); their experience companion my own.
Orpheus ("God of the lyre" in this poem) is the legendary musician, poet, and prophet of ancient Greek religion and myth. Rilke, formed within a Christian milieu and who drinks from that source, broadens the spiritual journey and universalizes it bu his invocation of Orpheus.
Having lived with this poem for quite awhile, I'm drawn to its ability to describe my current experience of the crisis of our times, the effect of that experience on my inner and outer life, as well as the lives of those around me. It permits, even reverences, the suffering while inviting me to see the way pain is gathered into Something larger and is eventually transformed. For the Christian, there are, of course, echoes of the crucifixion and resurrection and consummation, giving shape to a hopeful narrative that can guide our lives no matter what comes our way.
Here is it . . .
Like cloud-shapes, torn and molded by the wind,
the world is being changed, and rapidly.
What comes into the Fullness
falls toward the Ancient Source, and gratefully.
Soaring over the tumult and the change,
like some great bird, borne further and higher,
intones the Song that pierced the dawn
on that First Day, O God of the lyre.
No one ought ever love their suffering,
but no one ever loves without its pain;
and as we die, we come to wondering
if there was something we could not yet see—
that winged Thing that merges with Earth’s suffering
to make us what we otherwise would never be.