The leaves are falling, falling as from far off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.
And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.
We are all falling. This hand falls.
And look at others; it is in them all.
And yet there is One who holds this falling
endlessly gently in his hands.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
I first heard this song sung by the beautiful and talented Elizabeth Smith at the Atlantic Music Festival this past summer. Lee Hoiby had set this gorgeous poem to music, and the words just drew me in. I remember reading poetry by him in high school in my literature classes, and remembering that he was an exceptionally gifted poet. In fact, his creativity meant that he was remembered as the leading Christian existentialist poet of Germany. His own life was troubled; his mother mourned for a lost daughter and tried to project her desires onto him by dressing him in girls’ clothing. His parents’ marriage fell apart when he was nine. Eventually, years later, he started a relationship with a brilliant, widely-traveled, intellectual MARRIED woman who he remained friends with even afterwards. Later on, he began an affair with an artist. He had a pretty tumultuous life, later dying of leukemia.
But even out of a broken life can come beautiful poetry, and he has left many volumes of both prose and poetry which attest to that fact.
In my opinion, this poem sums up not just autumn, but the very fact of decay and death and falling and ending. The frailty and fragility of human nature. The fact that flowers have to wither sometime. The fact that we’re only a small, small planet in the midst of a sea of stars and galaxies. Hurtling through space, through gravity, to an unknown and uncertain future.
The inevitable fall, again and again.
And when we fall, we are hesitant to admit that we are so lost and drowning. Denying the pain for as long as we can, until we have no choice but to let go…
… until we are falling into unbearable grace; coming down to rest gently, our falls broken by forgiveness.
And I am utterly shattered by the beauty of it all.
Will You catch me when I fall?
First two pictures taken by me, last photo from Flickr