“Onto a Vast Plain”

Thursday, August 11, 2016 - 3:39 pm

“Onto a Vast Plain”

translation by Joanna Macy + Anita Barrows

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

Book of Hours, II 1

In her unedited interview with Krista Tippett, Joanna Macy tells the story of how she came to translate this poem after a famous Rilke translator took a pass.

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Rainer Maria Rilke

was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, “widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets”, writing in both verse and highly lyrical prose.

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