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The On Being Project

“The Swan”

translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

In her book A Year with Rilke, Joanna Macy chose one poem by Rilke for each day of the year. Krista interviewed her on July 13th, for which this poem “about death and how not to be afraid of death” was selected. A marvelous reading with a humorous anecdote about her late husband at the end.

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