I Say A Little Poem For You 1: Rainer Maria Rilke 1905 – 1908 poems (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

I don’t know how it works for you, but my mind starts kibitzing almost as soon as I open my eyes.

And when I get up and sit on a meditation cushion for twenty minutes, it either goes into kibitz-overdrive, or tries to flop back into sleep. For years these morning meditations have proceeded thus.

Looking back, I think I have learnt from them precisely two things:

1) In the morning I am even more aware of my “myriad selves” (anxious, hopeful, trembling, wishful, fearful, impatient) than at any time of the day

2) Unless I drift back into sleep on my cushion again, these sesshins do not bring with them much comfort or succour.

Of course they’re not meant to necessarily. But if sitting on a meditation cushion in the morning (afternoons, evening, much more variable) only reiterates these two points for me again and again and again, maybe I could, even should experiment with doing this thing differently?

I think of my forefathers wrapping themselves up in prayer shawls and phylacteries, rocking their way through the liturgy in a language they didn’t understand or speak.

I think of the many times I have felt intensely moved when participating in a similar buddhist rituals, but never wanting to take those Pali psalms home with me. I don’t particularly want to start my day saluting Buddha or one of Judeo-Christian-Moslem gods. I’d rather say a little secular prayer{{1}} for you (and me).

We’re the ones who need ’em.

The music on my Say A Little Poem recording comes from the rapturous dexterity of CoversArt on YouTube:

[Poems read today: I am, O Anxious One, Don’t you hear my voice; I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all; Lament; Autumn Day; Evening; The Blindman’s Song; The Drunkard’s Song; The Idiot Song; The Dwarf’s Song; The Panther; The Gazelle; The Swan; The Grownup; Going Blind; Before Summer Rain; The Last Evening; Portrait of My Father as a Young Man; Self-Portrait]

[[1]]And by this I mean poetry. Which could also be religion-sourced poetry. I quite fancy as part of this experimental morning ritual reciting the Dhammapada, The Song of Songs, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching. But not for a Deity, not even for a non-Deity.[[1]]

3 thoughts on “I Say A Little Poem For You 1: Rainer Maria Rilke 1905 – 1908 poems (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

  • Having just woken up from a fretful night’s sleep myself, and still recalling this song being belted out across my garden yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the poem. I found it particularly interesting how the timbre of your voice changed completely as soon as you started the poem. Thank you, this calmed my jittery nerves too (too much sugary food, I guess).

    • Part of timbre-change is because the reading was recorded with Tascam digital recorder propped up on radiator in front of meditating/reciting self. Introduction edited in later via Editors Keys mic to computer.

      What do you think of the cover version by CoversArt? Isn’t it beautiful?

  • Steve, Great post. Prayer for me is very much a connection to the ancestors. I think I like the prayers in Aramaic more than in Hebrew, now that I can understand the Hebrew. As if prayer should be more about the music of the language than its meanings. Rilke is so much about prayer. My favourite prayer of his is the one that goes “I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough to truly consecrate the hour.” Which, really, is all about what it means to write from that place of oneness, or nothingness. Oy.

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