You, Darkness – Rainer Maria Rilke
“You, darkness, that I come from
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything-
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! –
powers and people-
and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.”
My dear Rainer,
I am writing you this letter 9 days before your death 90 years ago. As I prepare myself for the winter Solstice eve, for the longest of the nights, I remember your unshakable faith to the nights. When you kissed the sun’s mouth for one last time, and embodied the darkness of the night as you closed your eyes to this world. When you started your dance with death, and when you died – I was too young to understand the physical space that death creates, no matter meaningless.
As the longest night of the year approaches I think of your rather slender body, heavenly face, and deep blue eyes, which are attuned to seeing in dark nights. My dear Rilke, can anyone see better than you in darkness? My wish for many young artists and myself is your eyes. Rilke, it’s dark out there and I know there lays a treasure in darkness, I just need to learn how to see that treasure, that flower among garbage as our friend Lenny would say. As the night approaches and as I prepare to take refuges in the anonymity of the night, to drop my mask, and thus become a madman, I think of you and how you moved through darkness as a small fish would move through the heavy seas, untroubled with currents, and without leaving a trace or making a noise. Nimble is the word that I think of, and nimble you were as your trot your horse through the landscape of solitude.
As I sit here in the day light almost a century after you wrote your poem titled “Du, Dunkelheit” – “You, Darkness” I think about the walks we took around the time you penned that poem. We were both young men of age 26 – 27 and heavens were not too far, I could levitate and touch the gates, despite the heaviness of being human I carry. Oh the weight that sits on our shoulders. We felt great in each other’s company those days, and I could sense that energy around us.
You, like many hopeless men of the time, were burning in Salomé’s love and I do not blame you, I wish I could drink from that angelic fountain too. You changed your name upon her request, which I think suits you well, and enter the new reality in which darkness and solitude changed their nature. Was it love or a new awakening? I do not know, nor care, your eyes tasted seeing in darkness, and your skin was wrapped in the safety of solitude. Trust your solitude, and all shall be fine! Rainer, I am writing you this letter, to take another walk with you in the landscape which you know so well – solitude and darkness – Here’s one more cheer to the nights, I, too, have faith in them with all my heart.
I do remember the days we took strolls in the old streets of Paris and new streets of San Francisco. Our talks about birth of human, and the first time our mouth tasted the sufferings of this world, I do remember them. I was born with the first raindrop falling from my mother’s eyes in some ancient times, and was born to be your friend, student and perhaps teacher. You on the other hand, were born under different circumstances, which I do not remember — perhaps no one does, since no one can remember how old the time is. Time, my dear Rilke, is both ancient and just a second old at the same time — mysterious and non-linear like yourself.
My dear, Rainer, for as long as I can remember, which is rather a long time, we have been taught to be scared of solitude and darkness. Our culture, despite the time difference, still discourages us from entering the dark spaces, be it internal or external. There has never been a time like mine in which suffering and solitude is look down upon. Solitary men and women are often thought to be abnormal and always advised to join the masses that elevate fools and prefer material wealth to arts and spirituality. That said, I have (thanks to you) have made a habit of creating a home in the infiniteness of nights and often indulge myself in taking skinny dips in the pools of solitude, for which, I believe one must break a layer of ice. So, I am forever grateful for the hammer you gave me to break the sealed doors to the ancient heavens of solitude. It was as great as the one Emerson gave to Thoreau, if not better.
As I walked aimlessly in the darkest of the nights my eyes untrained and my feet scared I felt the agitation caused by my suffering. In my journey to find comfort in solitude and to learn from it, your words kept me going until I arrived at the gates of the kingdom of solitude. In that kingdom every being is offered a space to drop the weights that they carry on their shoulders. There, one is allowed to just be what they are, in my case, a human and a poet. Your words still dancing in my mouth, “Just being human is too much”. As I entered, I heard the angelic voices saying you are allowed to just be, let the weights fall and pick up your pen. Was that you?
“This is the kind of Friend
You are –
Without making me realize
My soul’s anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past
In Your beautiful
Hands.” Hafez – e – Shiraz’i
You know the artists’ struggle for integrity and finding our place among the loud voices of discouragement. You have told me to not look anywhere but inside myself for what I search for. Now 100 years later, the struggle remain unchanged. We still fear the suffering and do not know how to pick the trails in darkness, because we live in a society that prefers blinding shiny lights to the quiet hours of our darkness, and fails to teach us that it is the darkness that holds the light, as the candle holder holds the candle, as the vast dark universe hold our sun.
Tonight is the winter solstice eve. Days will start getting longer, and sun once again will get more stage time to show off her lavish lips. That said, you are about to enter a different stage. I can hear death sharpening it’s knife. Now tell me, does it hurt your ears ,or is it a sweet lullaby for you, reminding you that relief is nigh? Look at the universe, my dear, and look how infinite and dark it is. Our sun, our source of life sits lazily in the dark universe. Oh how unimaginable it is an existence without darkness? Where would light lay its weary head? And where would angels go to let out their cries?
Ah my dear friend, how are you, as you lay naked and ill on my arms with pain in your stomach? Rainer, remember what you told me when I was burning in fires? “Fear not the suffering”. Now I am telling you, this shall pass too, my friend. Tell me are you afraid of the eternal darkness? Do not fear René, as no darkness is eternal, it’s the dance that is eternal. The dance of light and darkness and we, the lucky ones, get to occupy the space in between.
As I am preparing to pull this blanket made of a thousand knots of sheer darkness on you I want you to know that I am not going anywhere. Hold my hand and we shall take one last ride through this landscape that you and only you were able to draw the map for. The holy angels that you were afraid of are here to offer you their majestic carriage for your last ride. My brother, you are preparing to board the train and I am preparing to enter the longest of the nights. Need I to remind you that darkness is the cup that holds all the lights. I do know the pains of this earthly body too well to tell you that do not despair and do not struggle, but don’t give up on the pain just yet, let it teach you this one last lesson, the relief to your kingdom is only 9 days away.
I shall write to you again and our next meeting is never far. Now close your eyes and sleep as I go and plant the light that you have given me in the darkest hours of my soul.
With all my love and respect,