Sitting in solitude on my porch this morning, I watched as a crow flew silently past, a graceful dark splendor soaring amidst the forested green backdrop. Dark splendor.
I have this little game I play when I observe a soaring bird. A bird in flight has become a cue to me to recognize the presence of spirit, of the Absolute soaring within and throughout my life. The ephemeral presence of the soaring bird is graceful, silent, seemingly motionlessness yet moving great distances. Even when this presence is as dark as the crow, midnight black like a hole in space, this darkness appears as splendor, shiny, curiously reflecting light. I have come to believe that this is also true of our darkest night, our sorrows, our most difficult pains. There is some ‘terrible beauty’ within the dark, even if it is just the feel of our own spaciousness. I think this is what Rilke was referring to in his poem, Silent Friend.
This poem and the image of the soaring bird stirred tender memories of sorrow, of soaring gulls, and of flashing waters. Rising up through these images is the memory of my dad’s recent passing, and in particular, the of scattering his ashes into the Columbia River from the pilot boat he worked on for many years. I recall it was a very rainy, blustery day, early February of this year. When we arrived at the mouth of the river, near the sand bar, we scattered my dad’s ashes and tossed two flower wreaths onto the river. The flowers only lasted a very short time before being absorbed into the choppy, ‘flashing’ waters. I remember thinking the image conflicting, such as: Flowers in the river? Fancy florist bouquets out on this rough current? The place and images of my father’s life work, of the river, buoys, and ships, of ladders, ropes and anchors marked by roses?
Yes, that place and time was marked by roses. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter that they, in their delicate charm, were a contrast, or that they lasted only a few minutes, for the image of their graceful beauty floating there on the choppy water amidst the ashes is still with us all. As time passes, the images of the flowers remains, enlarges, becomes symbolic, even as we remember that they filled to overflowing and quickly became submerged.
Today, I serendipitously found this poem by Rilke. With great intuition, his poem thoughtfully weaves together many threads of this memory for me:
The Rose’s Innerness
Where is to this innerness
an outwardness? Upon what ache
do you lay its soothing petals?
What heavens find their reflections
in the secluded sea
of these wide open roses,
these carefree floating blossoms, see:
how loosely they lie in their looseness,
as if a trembling hand
could never spill and so disperse them.
They barely manage to stay afloat;
many of them let themselves
be filled to overflowing
and now flow over with inner space
into the days that ever more fully encircle them,
until the whole of summer
is contained in one room,
a room envisioned in a dream.
Ranier Maria Rilke
Today, many birds soar
through the overcast sky.
Blithe spirits, silent in their flight,
opening out the inner spaces of memory,
of rose petals on the water,
of longing, of sorrow, of wisdom,
turning outwardness to inwardness
whispering to existence, to flashing waters,
to all who fill to overflowing, “I am.”