When Can We Be Real?

It was a good weekend. I finally, finally got to the beach, for the first time this summer. I love the ocean, and can’t do without it for too long.

Every summer when I was a little younger, before almost all of us had moved away from my parents’ house, my father used to rent us a house for a week in Rhode Island, practically across the street from the ocean. It was a week of pure basking: during the day we’d lie on the beach, getting up sometimes to play in the waves or throw a frisbee or practice handstands, but mostly happy just to lie there.

What is it about the beach that just lying there feels like an activity? I have a tendency to drive myself too hard, to measure my worth by how much I’ve accomplished, but when I visit the ocean that disappears. Maybe it’s the sound of the waves, a sound that God made and that we’ve never touched.

Playing in the waves is like being ten again, or five. I feel free to jump around like an idiot, make stupid noises, enjoy it with my whole body, the way the world ought to be enjoyed. It would be good to live that way all the time, but something about the ocean makes it easy: plunging into a mammoth wave just before it knocks you silly feels like being tossed into the air by your father.

For my last birthday a friend gave me a book of Rilke’s poetry. I was a little scared to open it, because Rilke is powerful stuff, and a good poem can rip you to shreds if you’re not careful. But I brought it to the beach and cracked it open, and — what a gift.

Here’s the one that really stuck, one of his Sonnets to Orpheus, translated by Stephen Mitchell. I’ve got nothing else for you today, nothing to add to this.

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;
song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice — learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

6 Comments on “When Can We Be Real?”

  1. beauly says:

    Rilke is my all time favorite. Always makes me weep.

  2. Rosary Guy says:

    Great post. It blew me away. I am glad you wrote this instead of the “substantive post” you tried to write. I probably couldn’t have handled it.

  3. Ron says:

    Two thumbs up! Nothing like a day of just “being” as opposed to “doing” to put things into perspective. “Seas and rivers, bless the Lord…Praise and exalt God above all forever! (Daniel 3:78,81).

  4. Daria says:

    Thanks for this. Got to read more Rilke.

  5. Zach says:

    “a good poem can rip you to shreds if you’re not careful.”

    !!! So true. I keep an anthology of poetry next to my bed, and each night I consider opening it. Some nights I do. Some nights I don’t.

  6. Frank says:

    Good stuff. Thanks.

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