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



17 thoughts on “Autumn

  1. The poem you’ve shared is a beauty. I have another I feel certain you will love. Do you know Mona Van Duyn (such a wonderful writer)? Here is “The Gardener to His God”:

    The Gardener to His God

    “Amazing research proves simple prayer makes flowers grow many times faster, stronger, larger.”

    —Advertisement in The Flower Grower

    I pray that the great world’s flowering stay as it is,
    that larkspur and snapdragon keep to their ordinary size,
    and bleedingheart hang in its old way, and Judas tree
    stand well below oak, and old oaks color the fall sky.
    For the myrtle to keep underfoot, and no rose
    to send up a swollen face, I pray simply.

    There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking
    outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking,
    all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown,
    and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun.
    Deliver us from its giant gardening, from walking
    all over the earth with no rest from its disproportion.

    Let all flowers turn to stone before ever they begin to share
    love’s spaciousness, and faster, stronger, larger
    grow from a sweet thought, before any daisy
    turns, under love’s gibberellic wish, to the day’s eye.
    Let all blooms take shape from cold laws, down from a cold air
    let come their small grace or measurable majesty.

    For in every place but love the imagination lies
    in its limits. Even poems draw back from images
    of that one country, on top of whose lunatic stemming
    whoever finds himself there must sway and cling
    until the high cold God takes pity, and it all dies
    down, down into the great world’s flowering.

  2. I love Rilke and count his poetry as some of the most beautiful in the world: entirely suitable for the sweet/bitter melancholy that is Fall (or autumn here in England!).

  3. Hey! I haven’t commented in a while, I’m very sorry about that. I can see your posts are still amazing as ever though 😀 Thank you for your comment! ❤

  4. The “fall” is part of a larger, infinite cycle that includes rebirth, it’s a first step towards re-creation.

    I’ve given some thought to your words: “But even out of a broken life can come beautiful poetry,…” Speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that the broken, painfull experiences are sometimes the most potent catalysts to creative expression. To me, it’s no surprise that a “broken life” produces beautiful poetry.

  5. Beautiful post. LOVE Rilke. 🙂

    Here’s the original:

    “Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
    als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
    sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

    Und in den Nächten fällt die schwereErde
    aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

    Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
    Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

    Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
    unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält “

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