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The Swan

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying-to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day-
is like anxious letting himself fall

into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more indifferent,
he condescends to glide.

-Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Rilke is one of my many favorite poets.  We so often move awkwardly through our lives, trying to live through the expectations, hopes, and dreams of others.  We lose touch with who we really are and can so easily become like Rilke’s Swan, lumbering and waddling across the ground.  Forcing ourselves to live a life that is not ours, we are out of our element.

The swan doesn’t fix his awkwardness by beating himself up, or going even faster, or trying to organize his life in better and more efficient ways.  The swan slides into the water where he belongs.  Surrendering to this flow which is his element, he is suddenly filled with grace and presence.

How do you cling to the ground that makes you feel awkward and out of step with yourself?  What are the elemental waters of your own life? Why do you resist the place where you are filled with grace?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

(photos of swans taken in Galway and near Cong Abbey in Ireland)

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4 Responses

  1. The photos are stunning, as is the verse. I haven’t read much Rilke, and I thank you for the reminder to do so.

    For me, I think I’m clinging to the ground where I can make money and therefore feel secure, despite the fact that the environment in which I’m doing so does indeed make me feel ‘awkward and out of step with myself’. The French would say I’m not comfortable in my own skin in that environment. Comfort blanket!