‘Sky within us’ by Rainer Maria Rilke

Oh, not to be separated,
shut off from the starry dimensions
by so thin a wall.

What is within us
if not intensified sky
traversed with birds

and deep
with winds of homecoming?

Rilke must be a sister-soul of Rumi. There is (I think) a tingling stillness about his poetry that also pervades Rumi’s verse, and, like Rumi, he loves to confuse and cross-infuse spirituality with human love. His wisdom, so beautifully expressed (and here so beautifully and musically translated) continues to stun me as I weave through the wonderful Letters to a Young Poet and his poems, which I have been reading on and off for the past few months.

Sky within us is to me extraordinary because of its understanding of many forms of eternity and many forms of love. For me, this piece can be about knowing God, attaining the sublime through art, or attaining perfect love in its human form. Rilke begins with the timeless cry of Man’s soul: “Oh, not to be separated”. Isn’t much of human endeavour an attempt to shake off our sense of separation? When we create religions, or search for God, aren’t we seeking to sever a barrier between ourselves and eternity (or at least some higher truth or purpose)? And when we write poetry, or paint, or sculpt, or compose music, aren’t we doing the same thing, as well as trying to connect with others – to break barriers and truly communicate – which is so hard? And when we fall in love, and have strong connections of love with others, aren’t we continually fighting against the distances, walls and seas between us, endlessly trying to understand and be understood – to get through to the soul that’s seemingly encased within the body of the other?

As Rilke points out, the barriers we long to break are “so thin” – we are always so tantalizingly close to bliss. Rilke understands this, and he also understands that there is greatness in us. He called the poem Sky within us. He tells us that we contain “intensified sky/ traversed with birds // and deep/ with winds of homecoming”. What a beautiful image. Though we are endlessly searching to break through to something exterior, Rilke suggests that perhaps eternity, higher truth and purpose, love and the ability to communicate and connect to others, are in fact already very much within our reach – and exist in our own incredibly powerful minds, within our souls.

I will end with the extract below from in Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which I thought was quite appropriate when thinking about this poem.

“A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvellous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

birds-and-blue-sky

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. James
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 11:41:14

    The poem is wonderful and the analysis is brilliant. Thanks, Emily, for posting this and expressing your own thoughts about the poem.

    Reply

  2. Peter Hart
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 11:49:49

    Totally agree with James, your analysis is brilliant. Thank you so much Emily

    Reply

  3. Lady Fancifull
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 13:36:21

    Oh gosh. What a wonderful poem; what a heart-felt, compassionate and tender analysis. Thank you, Emily

    Reply

  4. James
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 16:58:19

    Do you have the German for this poem, Emily?

    Reply

    • emilyardagh
      Aug 24, 2015 @ 17:15:51

      I’m sorry, unfortunately I don’t have the German text. The book from which I took the poem is all in translation and doesn’t give the original text. I tried to find it on Google but without success. Please let me know if you do find it, though!

      Reply

  5. James
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 18:18:56

    Reply

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