the gifts of loss

Aug 19, 2021 poetry appreciation

This week—today, in fact, if you read this on a Friday—I’m having to do a big bit of letting go. The house where my Mum and Dad lived is now sold, and I’m up in Scotland, emptying the last bits of furniture, locking the door and walking away for the last time. Like much that has happened in my life (let alone in the wider world) over the last couple of years, this feels too big and disturbing to understand at once. I feel as though I can’t think and feel all the “necessary” things, and get in a sort of panic. Just the right time, then, to read a poem about letting go and feel it find me in the way that poetry (like music) can. Here is ‘Moving Forward‘ by Rilke.

(Obviously this is in translation; and obviously Rilke and his translator are unlikely to have predicted the way the ghastly expression “going forward” has seeped like toxic waste out of management speak and into common parlance. I mention that only to get it out of the way, because the poem’s title has that unpleasant echo for me now. Think of this paragraph as a kind of necessary purging…)

Anyway, yes. I read this poem and it says something I recognise deep below the level of words about what it’s like when you have to let go of some-one or -thing very significant: when you grieve. The poem alludes to ‘what language can’t reach’ even as it stirs the reader into an awareness of that unreachable thing inside. There’s something about loss which strips us, opens us—we are preternaturally sensitive, aware; we sense our connectedness and aloneness simultaneously. That terrible, beautiful state is what this poem is about for me: being translated by loss and letting go into a new way of being (if only for a while) in which ‘the largeness of the world’ (thank you, George) is experienced. The poem has a lot of images: there’s a sense of the poet grasping to articulate something which can’t be put into words; which can only be expressed magic-realist pictures and fragments of images.

‘It seems that things are more like me now, That I can see farther into paintings’. Oh what wondrous words. Loss as the leveller; loss as what we all have in common; loss as something which can move us—teach and grow us—if we can only bear to feel it.

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