Tuesday, August 14, 2012

washed stones, and the poem "Not Poor"

My writing pen is rusty. Poetry is far from me it seems. I can neither read nor write it with any relish. But there is a call to me from this poem of Rilke's. My being is not mute in response. With a halting post I open this quiet, spare place.

Times are not so different from Rilke's. WWI made a mess of the world, and now it is not much better, certainly. Maybe it is even worse in some ways, since one would have hoped for more improvement in a century. But what a century it has been!

First Rilke says that we are not poor exactly. It is just that we are not laden with riches, with things. Economic times are depleting our stores. But he says we are weighted with the dust and debris of our surroundings. We are outcasts. Broken, and without flesh even, barely alive. Even if I am not literally broken, it feels as if I could break easily and imminently.

But Rilke shifts, from poverty and brokenness in the first two stanzas, to something hopeful in the third. What does Earth do with broken things? She breaks them down even more. But is this what Rilke says? He does not. He says instead that if She needed to "she could weave us together like roses / and make of us a garland." Then he goes from plant matter, miraculously grown and woven by Earth, to ageless stones, smooth and clean. And from this to a newborn animal, eyes yet unopened, yet perceiving the only need worth needing: to be who we really are. No matter how many years and centuries pass, our bare essence remains unchanged.

We are not in our true state laden with things, whether the glitterati of the world, or the dust and debris of the earth. In our true state, the cleanness of washed stones, we can be made into roses and woven into a garland. Is this not reason to shake off attachments to material possessions and cares?


  1. Ruthie,
    I would love to join you on your journey here.
    I too am rather failing to write lately....too much lovely family with its attendant joys. (I think you understand that!)
    I too love Rilke but find him very difficult.
    Yes, we do live in horribly troubling times, though, of course, I'm not sure when things were ever peaceful.
    I was thinking about Rauf the other day and wishing he would post again.

  2. I've shied away from material attachments the last couple of years and am doing my best to be me, thinking and feeling this is the way for me. I look forward to reading your posts here Ruth.

  3. Hi friend -- Strange, we seem on such similar paths. It was your offhand comment earlier this summer about wondering whether to continue your blog that lit the same bulb for me, and inspired a dimming poetry ebbing toward silence. Not that there aren't things to say, but the magnitude of online is just so harsh and relentless ... Loved the Rilke poem, and agree that our poverty, even our silence, is something meant and good and useful. I yearn to do like Inge said- "slow down to the pace of the soul" -- and ceasing the daily fretting of a blog seems to be part of that. After a hiatus, I'm posting a few things about the hiatus to my blog, but it feels uncomfortable and even wrong -- as if to put a compress on the wrong wound. Maybe I too will start a different blog, wear a different mask, employ a different poetic or physic. Or not. The poverty which is so rich lies in understanding that it not mattering is exactly why it's important. I think you understand. - Best, Brendan

  4. This is all most welcome, Ruth — Rilke's poem, and your commentary on it. I hope to join you here as and when, in your quiet space, on your new pared-down, washed-clean blog. I do hope, when the time is right, you may consider sending in a poem or two for inclusion in my new poetry journal at www.thepassionatetransitory.yolasite.com

  5. It may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come to our real work,
    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
    The impeded stream is the one that sings.

    Wendell Berry

    I sent this to a dear friend yesterday to try to explain to her my current state. So the Rilke poem fits like a puzzle piece into the whole. Thank you for sharing it and your thoughts on it. Makes me feel met somehow. I'm so glad to hear your voice again out here, even if quieter. I'll join you gratefully.

  6. I have a feeling a quieter world is welcoming you with open arms, Ruth. It is so wonderfully liberating to pare oneself down from material things to find out what's really important. I want to talk with you about this when I see you next week. Soon! I can hardly wait.

  7. I am happy to follow your quiet journey here Ruth:)

  8. We need resistance to find what speaks. The Rilke poem is lovely, and true to the bone, and Berry one quoted by Grandmother reminds me of Achibald MacLeish's 'What Any Lover Learns: "What runs swirling and leaping into the sun/ is not the river/ but stone's refusal of the river..." (that is from memory so may not be exact.)

    Good to see you writing in any form, Ruth.

  9. Love the title for your new writing space. I look forward to your posts.

  10. I was Rilke for a Christmas masquerade, so I can make a faux claim to embracing this directly. We are insanely rich with a world "so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

  11. I will be here.
    Quietly no doubt.
    But appreciative and blessed.
    Much love to you Ruth.

  12. Why is it so much harder to affirm my true state than to accept what others think I should be? As always, we're on a parallel path.
    Here is to our true states!

  13. i come here moments after finishing a documentary on bees, Queen of the Sun, reading rilke and thinking of wendell berry and hoping into my new life.

    the irony of being in such a state of cleanliness and reduction of self, ruth, is that others don't get to glean those riches that you grow so quietly inside you. those who brand and sell are so obvious and superfluous on so many street corners. it is the real ones, the ones with real information, real witness, that we need to see, to follow, and yet they are quiet.

    i was just asking, how can we find real value in the world? real value? real real value? i turn to my children, my lover, the trees, water, books, dear friends. who sees this banner? who follows this call?

    it is not a call. it is, instead, being called.

    it is good to hear from you again, my dear friend.


  14. With gratitude I meet you here, friends. Maybe we are feeling broken together. Yes, this kind of poverty is rich, and yes “the impeded stream is the one that sings” (one of my favorite lines of writing, ever). “We need resistance to find what speaks.” Yes! And that stone’s refusal of the river. Oh how can this be so pure and perfect? Our true state must resist what others think, if that is who we are. And why is it so quiet? Why so hard to hear the call, that seems almost mute? I hardly know what to write, hardly able to hear my own being.

    I am glad you are here.

  15. Congratulations on your brand new blog!
    So beautiful title.
    I will have much pleasure to join your journey here.

  16. Sister Ruth,

    I'm reminded of Michigan's uniquely beautiful Petoskey stones, shoreline-found fossilized coral pebbles that were upended by glaciers, now washed by water and polished by sand....

    Methinks that you will find hidden jewels in your quiet shoreline strolls, even as you stop to dig around a little....



  17. I so welcome this new site, Ruth, and your first posting is very inspirational! Oh how I feel this broken world, but I also feel the undeniable power of the song that can arise from that impeded stream. Would write more, and will do so in the future, but the moment finds me rather overwhelmed with a couple of small grandchildren who are visiting. So glad to have your voice back.

  18. It is a great title for your writing space, and I love your writing -- in any space.

  19. i'm all for paring down and starting fresh. you inspire me to do the same.

  20. Dearest Ruth--
    on my run this morning I again ran past the glorious sun-lit patch of wild chicory I told you about last night, then turned into the posh neighborhood next to ours, with its well manicured, lush green lawns... and not a chicory blossom to be found anywhere! And Rilke's poem came back to me, Not Poor, and then I remembered John Updike's poem "Chicory." In my heart, they are related.

    Show me a piece of land that God forgot-
    a strip between an unused sidewalk, say,
    and a bulldozed lot, rich in broken glass-
    and there, July on, will be chicory,

    its leggy hollow stems staggering skyward,
    its leaves rough-hairy and lanceolate,
    like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear,
    its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue.

    How good of it to risk the roadside fumes,
    the oil-soaked heat reflected from asphalt,
    and wretched earth dun-colored like cement,
    too packed for any other seed to probe.

    It sends a deep taproot (delicious, boiled),
    is relished by all livestock, lends its leaves
    to salads and cooked greens, but will not thrive
    in cultivated soil: it must be free.

  21. Hello Ruth, I stopped by today to see if maybe you had appeared again upon the page.

    I miss you. I miss your words, your beautiful heart, your gentle spirit.

    Hope you are well -- and happy thanksgiving.


All responses are welcome.