Rainer Maria Rilke
from DUINO ELEGIES, Ninth Elegy, Lines 43-52 (Trans. A. Poulin, Jr.)
This is the time for what can be said. Here
is its country. Speak and testify. The things
we can live with are falling away more
than ever, replaced by an act without symbol.
An act under crusts that will easily rip
as soon as the energy inside outgrows
them and seeks new limits.
Our hearts survive between
the hammers, just as the tongue between
the teeth is still able to praise.
I read these lines when I was a graduate student working on the new field of ecopsychology. They gave voice to so much of what I was feeling at the time that I held them close for the rest of my student days. Decades later, now, I still recite them often.
This is the time…for moral courage, for giving honest testimony about this epochal historical moment we share, all of us on the cliff edge together.
The things we can live with…are, in my reading, all those more-than-human kin—the Butterflies, Song Birds, Grizzly Bears—the great community of all beings—that give our own human life its coherence. “One does not meet oneself,” said the naturalist Loren Eisley, “until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.” But these things we can live with are falling away more than ever, in an accelerating event of mass extinction.
What replaces our falling-away relationships? A great cry of pain held under crusts. A mass of felt experience that can find no symbolic mirror in a world that ideologically denies or de-languages our kinship with the rest of life. The act of ripping the crusts and seeking new limits is the movement toward new forms of expression, new social imaginaries and ways of producing our lives together, that can reconstruct an existential space of relation with the wild world. This is the work of ecopsychology.
Our hearts survive between the hammers…, which means we are still able to praise. From reading Rilke, I have come to love the word still. Our hearts still beat. And so we can still sing the world, still feed the gods with beauty, as we face those hammers.
Andy Fisher is author of Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life (2nd Ed.). He keeps up an active schedule of teaching and writing, while also working as a rites of passage guide, mentor, and psychotherapist.