We are not permitted to linger, even with what is most
intimate. From images that are full, the spirit
plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled;
there are no lakes till eternity. Here,
falling is best. To fall from the mastered emotion
into the guessed-at, and onward.
Rainer Maria Rilke, To Hölderlin
Poetry lends itself to reading between the lines and finding meaning that may or may not have been intended by the author. This is true of poetry in general but certainly and particularly true of Rilke.
Rilke wrote in the language of German and the language of a mystic, neither of which is my native tongue. So when I read his works they are translated once by a scholar from German mysticism into English mysticism and then a second time as I translate Rilke’s mysticism into some grain of truth or beauty that I am capable of comprehending and wielding.
The nature of this dual-translation is such that I’m never sure if what I find true and beautiful is actually Rilke or something that emerges in the long journey from Rilke’s written words through the translator’s pen to my mind. Or both?
But I’ve been dwelling all day on the above-quoted section and find in it a deep truth of the human condition. Despite our deepest desires for safety and shelter, life rarely permits us to linger. Even when we find ourselves in a moment of fullness – saturated with meaning and emotion and love and beauty – it is fleeting, and then only an image of fullness rather than true fullness, which does not exist on this side of eternity.
To live is to fall into the guessed-at, and onward.