For me, a memorable poem reaches far beyond its author’s private experience to touch something in us all. Five decades ago when my parents were downsizing to move into a more compact home, my father invited me to help myself to any of the framed pictures on their walls. I had always been intrigued by a large pencil drawing titled “Towardness”. The artist’s signature was illegible.
Centred at the top, a huge bald head bowed forward, its pate inscribed with the image of a tiny crouched figure burying its face behind bent knees. The rest of the drawing was crowded with huddled people, weeping or reaching out, and at bottom two giant, open hands attempting to gently gather them up. Who was everyone? No need to identify them. To me, the drawing evoked compassion personified.
Pasted on the back of the drawing was an English translation of a poem attributed to German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I admired it so much, I can still recite it from memory. Years later, the second stanza inspired the base from which to fashion my glose “In Search of New Credos”. Even beyond the pandemic, Rilke’s poem speaks to our endlessly troubled world.
Time-of-a-life-time Life, that can extend
from contradiction into contradiction!
Now hard and slow beyond all malediction,
now suddenly outspreading to ascend
wide-angel-wings beyond all benediction:
O life-time, life-time, hard to comprehend!
Which of the daringly-devised creations
can beat us in our fiery enterprise?
We stand and strain against our limitations
and wrest in things we cannot recognize.