It brings both bewilderment and relief to discover, through the beautiful solitude which arises in the company of books, that once upon a time there worked a verbal soul that so closely mimics one’s own contemplations. A poet and writer who too failed to honor the tried and tested; who lived in hope of escaping the monotone and in his escape discovered the unlimited capacity we largely fail to engage:
That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter … But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Fear of the Inexplicable, reading in April 2019
What for Rilke is the riverbed of endless possibilities for me is the symbol of continuity in repetition of the tried and tested:
Those are the rivulets of thought that slowly (at geological pace, perhaps) creep into the surfaces of the internal vacuum, popping out like veins in harsh exertion. Tiny, precarious gorges of unexpected thought, of the realisation that life is so much more than a tried and tested progression. From the monolithic riverbed I see the intricate network illuminate in each direction with its countless feeble paths, those ideas and aspirations conceived but unattempted.
~ myself, May 2018
Where he sees the monotone as a static wallow along the bank, I see it in motion along the uniform canyon that tradition and custom have forged into the collective consciousness; for life and time move forward even if guided along constant parameters. Where Rilke sees the riverbed as the source of possibility, for me this arrives further downstream where the surges and currents have calmed to a delta of countless interconnected rivulets that one may choose to navigate. Choosing to do so carries with it the fear of a dead end, of the unknown conclusion that may well see you trapped in shallow sand. And yet, it is only in this uncertainty that I find solace; in the indication that one may choose truth or trap, and that the choice itself embodies all that makes life more than just coincidence or replicated recurrence.
To fear not life’s unpredictabilities;
To embrace and release into its unknown;
To comprehend that all is us and we are all
And that our own solitary mind is what spawns and curbs the bloody wounds
We so readily attribute to the hands of others.
I plead that you should not read this as a conceitful attempt to equate myself in any way to the genius of Rilke. Rather, I intend to observe the lover I have found in him; one who pours into the chalice of my creativity; who mirrors my contemplations and understandings a century in the past and who shines a light on the universality of my concerns; evading time and space and echoing back through that unlimited capacity which will forever guard the humanity in us.