Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.


This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke follows the course of change though seasons and captures the loneliness of uncertainty in everyday life. Yet there is a sense of connection to the earth and a feeling of humility in the final verse. How would you describe this sense of endurance that might sustain us through the changing seasons and through difficult times?

Onto a Vast Plain
You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

Reprinted from Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows' translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours

Share Your Reflection




It is just what I needed to read today. It is perfect.

Whoah, leaves me breathless. As someone who writes about loss and joyful mourning, this poem speaks so beautifully of acceptance.

Since I don't read German, I will never know if Macy came close, but reading this again deepens my appreciation for Rilke's profound connection to his pain and his hope. And Macy's capacity to capture at least some of it in my native tongue.

Endurance?? Really? I felt submission, giving it all up peacefully, tho'. Assurance of comfort, perhaps, but going on after succumbing? I don't think so.

Yes, lovely, lonely; yet full of hope.

Touches me deeply, somewhere in my core of being. Thank you.

I had a chance to do a presentation of several of Rilke's poems a couple of months ago and was able to compare several different English translations of some of the same poems. While I certainly can't claim to have made a scholarly or comprehensive study of all translations, Macy's were the ones that touched me most deeply. Hearing her read "On to a Vast Plain" again after several months was a powerful experience. Like a thing ripened until it is real, these poems will unfold their depth with multiple exposures.

Thank you. It is wonderful.

What a wonderful message. As one who has experienced loss.....what do we learn, accept and loose while on that vast plain?? But there is the message of hope if we remain aware of the role of a higher power in our lives.

This is a good example of what we at First Parish in Canton, Ma. will be studying this summer during church recess. Krista combines both the search for beauty and truth and the respectful attitude necessary for meditation. She does not trash 'man's search for meaning'.

Journey To The West
A poem by Stone Riley

Love is not the thing, nor hate. Hope is not the mouse's scurrying feet and owl's sharp beak, no more than these are fear. What is the purpose of the poppy's fate then, or the logic of my heart blood's heat, or yet the celestial motive of the sky's Great Bear? How do we live? Why has the Cosmos brought us here?

When I was full of hope, I thought that was the beginning and end of all things. Then, full of yearning to be loved, I dreamed love was the wellspring of delight. But then, immersed in deep despair, I chose to live this life for purposes that were far too obscured in smoke and flame for me to know and name. Why did I, in that dark hour, choose to live this life? Why did I not yet fly away?

Love is not the thing, nor hate. Faith is not the prisoner's chain, nor doubt the prophet's holy flame, nor greed the mother's teat touched to the sleeping baby's lips, nor is blessed charity the tyrant's grip. All this is life, but what is life? What is the melting of all opposites?

There is a man I truly hate; there is a woman whom I love. That man is dead as he once wished for me, the woman never met although my eyes search through the worlds for only she. Where is this woman who'll return my glance? Where is that ancient foeman now when in my hands I hold his broken blunted lance? And where am I? Where is this land wherein I stand alone? What is this place? Is this my home? I simply call this place my Skysealand.

One year when I was young and starting out across this continent, I strained my eyes to look ahead to map the way. That year, each Monday I would take a poem from an ancient wisdom book and I would fold up the coded rhyming wisdom neatly into my purse. Then for seven days I'd search the curving trunk of every tree and every mottled turtle's shell that I might pass beside the way for explications written there by unseen hands for me. Well, the Gods were generous and kindly gave some of their secrets up, but the boy I was then did not know their language well.

An eagle's mighty flight; a turtle shell; amid the lovely ripples of a brook, the various colored pebbles very artfully arranged; I made the best of it I could. Indeed, several turnings of the way and crossroads were very helpfully pointed out to me in advance by these magic signs. But now I've come a good way further on and, even though the sunlight and the stars and meadow flowers and hills and snow now all sing and whisper to me audibly; and even though the web of jewels of which all things are made stands manifest and visible and palpable to my fingers; yet even so, more hidden secrets still remain.

Buddha says that all is bliss. Solomon recommends a carefully considered trust. Christ says you should take his word on faith. Ganesh and Krishna both respectfully suggest that you can dance your life with happy grace. But for me, Merlin stands with a lantern held high in his hand, leaning on a wooden staff up on a windy mountain top. That wind blows down to gently touch my face and it speaks to me in a woman's voice and all she says is just: "Come."

No, love is not the thing, nor hate; not victory nor defeat. Whatever guides my fate, whatever it may be that lures me on, whatever it may be, it is not anything that I can know so as to name.


(C) 1997
This poem on the web:

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I see you. And although you don't know me, thanks for seeing me.

Wonderful reminder as I sit quietly on my back porch worrying about doing nothing. Be the ground...under the sky...ripening. Thank you.

I wonder about the poem without the 'he'.
All the rest speaks 'real'.

I want to wrap this around me and sleep with it for a while.

There's a universal power in Rilke's poetry, even in translation.

"Peace ... Be Still ... And Know ... That I am ... "

I wish more Muslims we talk about their feelings on violence I liked what she said about violence but her comparisons I don't agree with Isis is a group of a large group of people killing even some of their own people and it seems to be agreed with I don't also like the idea of the way women are treated in the Muslim religion Women aren't treated well all over the world but the way they are treated in the Muslim religion seems atrocious to me perhaps there the education of Muslims I don't mean in this country or in England or in the west but it seems that there is going to be a reason that they're treated so poorly The girl I got shot and one the peace prize but they didn't want girls to go to school even the picture of you you're holding your son and your daughter is behind you perhaps it's just the picture but I don't feel the girls are treated with the same affection that the boys are lots in most families and other religions also but it is more prevalent with the Muslims

A beautiful expression of the lesson to accept what is no matter what. I have learned to embrace the pain. Now when it pain comes, I don't sedate myself or run away. Instead, I am grateful to feel it. Now I trust that is sent for a reason... and my response is "thank you."

Today is day 7 of a 30 day sabbatical-- my first. Being a person, a worker, a mom and spouse who doesn't unplug for long, and always carries a vague sense that I should be doing something, responding to someone, completing a task, etc., I can understand when he says:

Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb...

This sabbatical shift from doing to being is indeed lonely. But then Rilke reminds us that this is where and when the ripening could happen. Thanks for posting this lovely poem.