The Book of Hours

I came across Rainer Maria Rilke in the year 2014. I would read anecdotes and quotes of his, and then I stumbled upon, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”, a piece of poetry extracted from The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God. Everyone who seems enamored with this poem tends to interpret it differently. When I first read the poem, it stayed with me immediately after reading it, the lines floating across my mind, my own voice echoing in my ears. The sheer beauty of what Rilke was trying to capture, in the midst of unraveling it through the voice of a monk, captivated me. It’s my north star, whenever I don’t know what to do when it comes to poetry I turn to Rilke’s The Book of Hours, and it allows me to re-calibrate my spirit.

There’s the circulated translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Borrows, but my favorite translation is from the original German by Annemarie S. Kidder. Translating poetry is an art-form in and of itself. To capture what a poet does in their native language is trying to route the rhythm of their being. Poetry is the rhythm of our spirit plucked through the waves of emotions we feel. Seeing the original German side by side with the translation, I feel more at ease as I pronounce the words in it’s original capture. You cannot read this poem on its own, Rilke demands you to read The Book of Hours in its entirety in order for you to understand the beauty you see in, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”. As Kidder says in the introduction, “For Rilke, the duty of the artist is to travel the austere journey of self-discovery. He compares this journey to life in a religious order, whereby the artist practices releasing all trifling and temporary things as by placing them outside the door, purging his or herself of them…” Because for Rilke this allows us to come to terms with solitude and solitude allows us to find the space we need to expand and create honestly.

Whatever your impressions of God are, as someone who creates, this need to figure out the self in order to express what needs to be extracted from the soul and heart, you have to understand the surrender to something greater than the self. You can argue of the ability of the human to accomplish so much, but at the end of our life we have to bow at and come to terms with our mortality and the edge of our journey. But while we are alive, the borders of our lives extend to the greatness of the divine. Trying to reconcile the both enriches our understanding of ourselves. We try to explain everything, gathering facts and figures but still we fall short to explain those things that can’t be held within numbers. I love The Book of Hours because it is a journey of questioning, of trying to understand this god, and ultimately trying to understand ourselves in front of such a phenomena.

God talks quite audibly before one is created,
Then walks in silence beside you into the night.
But the words, before one is given one’s start,
These cloudy words are:
Guided by your senses you are sent;
Walk to the rim of your desire;
Be my attire.

Grow like fire behind the scenes
So your shadows stretch and hover,
Becoming my cover.

Allow it to happen: beauty and terror.
Just press on! No feeling is an error.
But don’t get severed from me.

Close is this land
Which one calls life.

You will recognize it
By its strife.

Take my hand.

From “The Book of Monkish Life” in The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God.

The Original German:

The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God by: Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation by: Annemarie S. Kidder

At the Bottom of the Heart

“But city life sometimes takes away the ‘early dew of morning’. Still the longing for the ‘old, old story’ remains; whatever is at the bottom of the heart stays there”

Vincent Van Gogh
Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh by John Peter Russell. Vincent watches me while I write.

In the current age of self-branding I was trying to find a way to brand myself. Creating this site is a way to share what is passed over in the publishing sphere, and I wanted to give it a name. But the idea of branding myself caused me to look at myself as a product. I know in order to make it you gotta sell a little of your something right? I tried many names but my own because it didn’t feel right. I felt a little lost as to how to share what I create. I felt sad and useless, and deeply troubled with the notion of selling myself as a name, as a brand. I pushed writing aside for a while to reflect and dove into anything that pulled at my sensitivities. I rediscovered Vincent Van Gogh and delved a little further into his life. Feeling excited to have found my soul kin, I ordered his autobiography, letters to his brother Theo, his life in his own words. Sixteen pages in, and I found this quote and it struck me right in the heart. I knew what he meant. The naturalness of ourselves, the waking newness of ourselves in each day is robbed by the demands of a busy life. The city is tough on the soul, constantly demanding more us. And yet the longing for something simple, something our ancestors knew is there. At the bottom of the heart lies the fossils of the old, passed on through us. Right then and there I found what I wanted to name all of this. It feels fitting to me to name all my efforts as the early dew of morning- everything I create in spite of the demands, everything I hold dear and what gives me a sense of purpose. Whatever is at the bottom of my heart- the old stories, the histories, stay there like fossils waiting to be discovered in time.

So, what’s at the bottom of your heart?

Rumi’s Little Book of Life

I have made this little book into an oracle of sorts. If I feel lost or a sadness has come to visit me a while and I no longer have the patience to host this visitor, I take the little book, close my eyes and flip to a page, and there will be my antidote, the elixir to help me on my way.

Rumi will always move me, even if some days I feel like a statue. Reading even a couple of lines softens me and reminds me of my humanity. He always feel like a hand on my shoulder letting me know to always look for the Divine. And the Divine is the confirmation that our soul is light and will lead us in the right direction, to love.

Love is an attribute of God wanting nothing
repentance is an attribute of man, it is a worm
to Love’s dragon, absurd in God’s presence.
Love for anything but Him is unreal
for that which is not Him is a gilded object
shining outside yet empty inside,
light and golden on the outside yet dark within.
The moment divine light disappears
darkness is revealed and unreal love
is extinguished like a candle,
the body is discarded and beauty returns to its source.
The moonlight goes back to the moon
and its reflection disappears from the black wall.
Divine love is the sun of perfection
the Divine Word is its Light
and the creatures are its shadow.

From, “Part Two: Garden of the Heart”.
Rumi’s Little Book of Life. Translated By: Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin.