Poetry Monday : Autumn by Rainier Maria Rilke

Rainier Maria Rilke is a beloved German-language poet who was born in Prague in 1875 (at that time, Prague was in the Kingdom of Bohemia, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and traveled extensively throughout Europe during his life, eventually settling in Switzerland. During his lifetime, he wrote vast amounts of beautiful poetry in both German and French, as well as one novel. A collection of his letters was published in 1926 as Letters to a Young Poet and has become a beloved classic. He died from leukemia at the age of 51 in Montreux, Switzerland. You can read more about Rilke on his Wikipedia page. I first read this poem in The Book of Images, translated by Edward Snow. I have the bilingual edition (a beautiful gift from a beloved friend) because I am a scholar of the beautiful German language, but I will provide you only with the English text here.

Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far off,
as if in the heavens distant gardens withered;
they fall with gestures that say “no.”

And in the nights the heavy earth falls
from all the stars into aloneness.

We are all falling. This hand is falling.
And look at the others: it is in them all.

And yet there is One who holds this falling
with infinite softness in his hands.

photo-autumn-rilke

Poetry Monday : Now Blue October by Robert Nathan

Robert Nathan was a novelist, screenwriter, and poet who produced over fifty books in his lifetime. He was born just before the turn of the nineteenth century in New York City. He died at ninety-one years of age in Los Angeles, where he resided for much of his adult life. You can read more about him in his New York Times obituary here. This poem is another that I discovered in the marvelous anthology Fifty Years of American Poetry. I shared this poem with my husband, David, early in our friendship, and it has held a special significance for us ever since.

Now Blue October

Now blue October, smoky in the sun,
Must end the long, sweet summer of the heart.
The last brief visit of the birds is done;
They sing the autumn songs before they part.
Listen, how lovely — there’s the thrush we heard
When June was small with roses, and the bending
Blossom of branches covered nest and bird,
Singing the summer in, summer unending —
Give me your hand once more before the night;
See how the meadows darken with the frost,
How fades the green that was the summer’s light.
Beauty is only altered, never lost,
And love, before the cold November rain,
Will make its summer in the heart again.

— Robert Nathan

frozen-stick-in-water

 

homecoming (my time of year)

My time is the cold months, and they are arriving. Last night we slept with the windows open to feel the cool night air, and I wore flannel dark-blue-with-stars pajama pants and pulled the quilt right up to my chin. Fall is here, and winter is coming.

I have never been a summer person. My dad often reminded me to “never wish your life away,” and I’ve learned to love the summer. It was one thing to learn to love the Northern California summer when we would visit our family there — that love came naturally, love for the brown hills and the smells of eucalyptus in Tilden, love for hearing my parents’ stories of growing up, love for a coast where you wore your jeans and a sweatshirt to sit on the beach. Love for New York summers has taken a bit more coaxing, but it has come, too : getting up at dawn in July to feel the temporary dip in temperature, when the regular day’s heat is still somehow present and bumping against you in big balloons that will soon burst. The lush, overgrown Eastern woods. Tuning out the impossibly loud buzz of cicadas until your ear suddenly, shockingly notices it, again and again. Reading on the front porch while the dog sits in the yard and patiently watches the quiet street. Yes, I have found my love of summer.

Nevertheless, my time is a cold time. I was born in November, and my heart seems to have stayed there. November : the darkening, in-between month before the winter blows fully in. Dustings of snow on gray-brown leaves. Morning darkness, which is a different darkness than evening. The memories that return each year : helping my mother prepare dinner one evening during a fall evening rainstorm while we sang along to Norah Jones. Venturing out with my father and brother after the blizzard of 1996 to see the magical world outside our apartment, where snowdrifts were taller than I was — taller even than Daddy was. Thanksgiving with friends in Oregon during college, playing boardgames until we laughed ourselves silly and eating double helpings of pumpkin cheesecake. David, getting down on one knee before me two late-Octobers ago, me in my dad’s old wool sweater and boots and David with tears in his eyes. (And I don’t remember a single thing he said, although I think it had to do with marriage and I know I said yes.)

Every year from November first until spring, I allow myself to listen to the Rachmaninov Vespers again (and again, and again). (If I didn’t limit my listening, I worry I’d ruin them for myself.) After singing Bogoroditse Djevo in my college choir, I fell in love with the entire work. There is truly nothing like lying on your back, alone in a dark room, half-watching the rain, snow, or wind-blown leaves outside the window, while listening to the Vespers. I listen to at least part of them almost every day for those months. I live in them. They are my soundtrack and they connect me wherever I am to the places and times I have lived. The Vespers are fall and winter to me.

And fall and winter are safety, adventure, and stories. They are my childhood and my point of origin. They are cooking in a kitchen that is made more pleasant (not less) by the extra heat of the stove. They are friendship and peace after the frenzied energies of summer. And it is good to be home.

frosted leaves