Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Smoky Moon and Rilke

Fire season once again.  The intervals when it isn't fire season have grown noticeably shorter, but right now we are definitely in the heart of it.  Two evenings ago, when I went down to close the gate, this almost-full moon was just rising.  It was exactly the color of a Nabisco Vanilla Wafer.  I leaned my arms on the gate and gave myself time to simply watch this remarkable vision of a moon masquerading as a cookie.  

I had two conflicting thoughts as I stood there.  One was that this was infinitely poetic and yet, naturally, I couldn't remember any poems about the moon that fit this particular moon (it wasn't a Robert Frost or ee cummings moon, but that's all that came to mind).  The other was being aware that the moon was telling me, as clearly as a bulletin on the news, that wildfire was once again tearing through the thick vegetation of our  California bone-dry hills.  There's an irony that the heavy rains that we welcomed with such joy over the winter have created an even greater fire hazard now that the abundant grass has become tinder.  And now the hills (not here-not yet, but somewhere)  are on fire.  Well...

Several days have passed and I've gone through my poetry books looking for a poem that spoke to my beautiful/tragic moon of the other night.  Almost immediately I found it in The Book of Images by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Edward Snow (not surprisingly, the book fell open to this poem, as it's one I've read many times).  It doesn't address the particulars of moons or fires; however it holds creation, destruction and eternity plus an uneasy but profound acceptance of it all.  That's close enough.


Slowly the evening puts on the garments
held for it by the rim of ancient trees; 
you watch:  and the lands divide from you,
one going heavenward, one that falls;

and leave you, to neither quite belonging,
not quite so dark as the house sunk in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which grows star each night and climbs -- 

and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening, 
so that it, now bound in and now embracing,
grows alternately stone in you and star.

Here it is in the original German, from the same text.  I include it because I'm back to studying German through Rosetta Stone and want to practice my typing (it's very clear that the poem rhymes the original).  


Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder,
die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält;
du schaust: und von dir scheiden sich die Länder,
ein himmelfahrendes und eins, das fällt;

und lassen dich, zu keinem ganz gehörend,
nicht ganz so dunkel wie das Haus, das schweight,
nicht ganz so sicher Ewiges beschwörend
wie das, was Stern wird jede Nacht und steigt --

und lassen dir (unsäglich zu entwirrn)
dein Leben bang und riesenhaft und reifend,
so daß es, bald begrenzt und bald begriefend,
abwechselnd Stein in in dir wird und Gestirn.

{Typing all of that (very slowly, I might add) lets me feel like I actually know German.  However, when one is on Unit 2, Lesson 3 of Rosetta Stone, the only words mastered that are in the poem are:  der, Abend, die, ein, Bäumen, du, und, Länder, das, dich, zu, nicht, Haus, Nacht, Leben.  
That's fifteen words.  Well, it's a start.  The goal is that one day I will be able to speak with my dear cousin Anke in German and read Rilke in the original...surely the universe is big enough for that to happen.}  


  1. Your German lessons are really great - I took it in high school and college. I can speak some still and understand more. My maternal grandparents both emigrated from Switzerland, so Switzer Deutsche was the language I grew up hearing. Far different than the high German I was taught... We still have lots of family in Switzerland and we stay in touch but not often.

    We are having colorful sunsets due to the smoke particulate in the air here, too.

  2. Switzer Deutsche -- that's interesting. The dialect I heard and spoke with my paternal grandparents was Austrian German. When I came to this country as a young child, I quickly forgot it all. I regret this loss and it's something that I would like to have back. I believe that the German taught through Rosetta Stone is a relatively formal, High German.