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Fall leaves

Reflections on “Autumn Day” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Chris Zimmerman

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  • Nicole Solomon

    Thank you for this important reminder that with harvest comes also the time that we see the chaff removed and burned out of our lives so the fields are ready and empty for the Lord of Harvest to do what He chooses with the fields in the future. This year particularly speaks to me about just how important it is to not fear that emptiness so that we can be filled with something that is so much more important--a fruitful harvest. When one stares death in the eye, it is then that one can also realize "Death, where is thy sting?" just as was mentioned in the new book "Rich in Years" that was just released recently. I think this harvest is particularly one in which we have a lot of thanks to give--nothing more than a pure grateful thanks for everything that God has done in our lives and communities. Thank you!

  • Wendy

    Thanks for the good reminder. This is one of those things I need to think about almost daily or I turn into a marshmallow... all fluffy and sweet but get blown away by the slightest breeze.

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Let fall your shadows on the sundials,
upon the fields let loose your winds.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
Press them to completion, and chase the last
sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now - he will never build.
Whoever is alone now, long will so remain;
will stay awake, and read, and write long letters
and wander the alleys up and down,
restless, as the leaves are drifting.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Trsl. C.Z.)

 

Some poems catch our fancy with a memorable image or turn of phrase; others seem to speak directly to our condition. A truly great poem like Rilke’s “Autumn Day” does both, displaying his mastery as a wordsmith and inviting us to go deeper—to ponder not only the bounty of the season, but also the harvest ripening in the fields of our heart. He asks no questions, but he leaves us asking our own: considering the seeds we have sown in the past year, and probing their yield; remembering the abundance of summer, and wondering whether we are adequately prepared for the coming cold.

The hands of time never stop. Changes tend to come on us unaware. Children grow up, loved ones pass on, friends move away. Windows of opportunity suddenly close. Doors that always stood open swing unexpectedly shut.

Suddenly it is too late to find shelter or set things straight; to make that journey we put off for years; to follow that secret yearning; to fan that long-smoldering spark. One day it will be too late to ask forgiveness (or to forgive); to mend that broken relationship; to say “I love you” one last time. One day you may open your mouth only to find that you no longer have a voice.

Rilke’s sturdy lines are not sentimental. They echo matter-of-factness. They reflect inevitability. True, there’s always the chance of another summer-like day. Maybe even two. But this is not the moment to be lulled to sleep. Because even the richest, most fruitful season of life can’t last forever, and “it is time.”

stone stairs covered with leaves
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