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.”