Susan's Thursday morning note December 4, 2008
Niels Lyhne by Jens Jacobsen.
In my last newsletter I told you about Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. In this book Rilke wrote to his young poet, “Get the little volume of Six Stories by J.P. Jacobsen & his novel Niels Lyhne…a whole world will envelop you, the happiness, the abundance, the inconceivable vastness of a world. Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them. This love will be returned to you thousands upon thousands of times, whatever your life may become – it will, I am sure, go through the whole fabric of your becoming, as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys. He said that this author was the most influential in his life. That he read & reread his works. So I ordered the books! Niels Lyhne was published in 1884. What interests me is that Anne Lindbergh has so affected my thinking, she was affected by Rilke, and Rilke was influenced by his reading of Jens Jacobsen. I like working backwards like that. What makes each of us who we are becoming. Here are some of the thoughts I underlined in Niels Lyhne. The book covers a few generations, many dialogues and the inner thoughts of the characters. I won’t try to tie each part for you – but here is a taste of some of the voices…
On finding a love for poems, a love for imagining and dreaming (Mother of Niels Lyhne as a child)… She lived on poems, dreamed poems, and put her faith in them above everything else in the world. Parents, sisters and brothers, neighbors and friends – none of them ever said a word that was worth listening to. Their thoughts never rose above their land and their business; their eyes never sought anything beyond the conditions and affairs that were right before them. But the poems! They teemed with new ideas and profound truths about life in the great outside world, where grief was black, and joy was red; they glowed with images, foamed and sparkled with rhythm and rhyme.
This reminded me so much of my favorite Anne of Green Gables, so I had to find this paragraph for us! “I’m not in the depths of despair this morning. I never can be in the morning. Isn’t it a splendid thing that there are mornings? But I feel very sad. I’ve just been imagining that it was really me you wanted after all and that I was to stay here for ever and ever. It was a great comfort while it lasted. But the worst of imagining things is that the time comes when you have to stop, and that hurts.”…. “Do you ever imagine things different from what they really are?” asked Anne wide-eyed. “No.” answered Marilla. “Oh!” Anne drew a long breath. “Oh, Miss-Marilla, how much you miss!”
On the perspective of dreams and imaginations being a waste of time (a character in Niels Lyhne):
You ask me if there is no hope, and I answer: No, there is no hope. You have done what so many people do: they close their eyes to the realities and stop their ears when life cries “no” to their wishes. They want to forget the deep chasm fate has placed between them and the object of their ardent longing. They want their dream to be fulfilled. But life takes no account of dreams. There isn’t a single obstacle that can be dreamed out of the world, and in the end we lie there crying at the edge of the chasm, which hasn’t changed and is just where it always was. But we have changed, for we have let our dreams goad all our thoughts and spur all our longings to the very highest tension. The chasm is no narrower, and everything in us cries out with longing to reach the other side, but no, always no, never anything else. If we had only kept a watch on ourselves in time! But now it is too late, now we are unhappy. (Do you remember me quoting Return to the Sea by Anne Johnson? She has this same discussion – the importance of not living our lives in constant thoughts of wishing we were in a different situation….the waste of that time when we need to accept where we presently are…going forward…all these books so tie together, don’t they?).
On Lifetime Learning (Still another character’s thoughts in Niels Lyhne):
To learn is as beautiful as to live. Do not be afraid to lose yourself in minds greater than your own! Do not sit brooding anxiously over your own individuality or shut yourself out from influences that draw you powerfully for fear that they may sweep you along and submerge your innermost pet peculiarities in their mighty surge! Never fear! The individuality that can be lost in the sifting and reshaping of a healthy development is only a flaw; it is a branch grown in the dark, which is distinctive only so long as it retains its sickly pallor. And it is by the sound growth in yourself that you must live. Only the sound can grow great.
Rilke’s thoughts from Letters to a Young Poet on Lifetime Learning….”and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer….Read as little as possible of literary criticism…always trust yourself and your own feeling…if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion…wait for the hour when a new clarity is born…there is no measuring of time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.
Adult woman wishing for her days of being herself at as a young girl (Another character out of Niels Lyhne):
How strange it is to long for one’s self, and yet I often, so often, long for myself as a young girl. I love her as one whom I had been very close to and shared life and happiness and everything with, and then had lost while I stood helpless. What a wonderful time that was! You cannot conceive the purity and delicacy of such a young girl’s soul when she is just beginning to love for the first time. It can only be told in music, but you can think of it as a festival in a fairy palace, where the air shines like bluish silver. It is filled with cool flowers, and they change color, their tints are slowly shifting. Everything is song, jubilant and yet soft. Dim presentiments gleam and glow like mystic wine in exquisite dream goblets. It is all song and fragrance; a thousand scents are wafted through the palace. Oh, I could weep when I think of it, and when I think that if it could all come back to me, by a miracle, just as it was, it would no longer bear me up; I should fall though like a cow trying to dance on cobwebs.”
I also read a beautiful poem about a mother letting go of the season of her daughter being a young girl. How the girl (reminding me of both girls above from Niels Lyhne), if she would stay a child for her mother’s sake, would then not change into a beautiful woman, bearing new fruit. On a daughter changing from young girl to adult – beautiful analogy of seasons changing…letting go of your daughter’s youth. (Taken from Motherhood: Poems About Mothers):
The Blossom by Eavan Boland
A May morning. Light starting in the sky.
I have come here
after a long night.
The blossom on the apple tree is still in shadow,
its petals half white and filled with water at the core,
in which the secrecy and freshness of dawn are stored even in the dark.
How much longer will I see girlhood in my daughter?
In other seasons,
I knew every leaf on this tree.
Now I stand here almost without seeing them
and so lost in grief
I hardly notice what is happening
as the light increases
and the blossom speaks
and turns to me with blond hair
and my eyebrows and says -
Imagine if I stayed here
even for the sake of your love.
What would happen to the summer? To the fruit?
Then holds out a dawn-soaked hand to me
whose fingers I counted at birth
and touches mine for the last time
and falls to earth.
I think you’ll love this poem, or know someone saying goodbye to certain seasons of their children that would appreciate this. As in The Christmas Box by Richard Evans the father states how he would like to keep his son the age he is looking upon him. Then he writes, “…but to hold the note is to spoil the song.” How all of these books really do tie together! It seems like with the holidays coming we see our children as absolute children – with the wonderment of the advent, reaching for the #1, #2 to see the different stories awaiting Christ’s birth. To see their excitement. We don’t want the next seasons, do we? We want to stop the season, stop the song. But how would our children ever become who God created them for if we keep their fingers little? Let our little trees change with the seasons, growing strong, as we give them examples of when the appropriate times in life are for daydreaming, imagining, when the appropriate times are for accepting what our realities are? Give them examples of lifelong desires for learning, for thinking, for changing….we all are in the seasons, constantly changing.
I find life intriguing to know that I am only a part of who I have potential of becoming. What, with God seeing me at my completion, does he see having the eternal sight of all I am? I want to change. I want to be strong. I want to never stop trying to find who influenced who that influenced who that influenced who – that then influenced and made me who I am today. I wonder who I’ll be in 10 years. I’ll be anxious to meet me. Along with all of you – stronger because we continued to grow at the same time as imagining.
Goodness, if you only knew all that I again cut out. Thank you so much for letting me try to find authors that will change us. That will help us see our realities with different eyes – giving us ways to change no matter how painful our own circumstances may be. Or how easy right now our circumstances may be. Spring? Beautiful stage of life? Summer? A different beautiful stage of life? Fall? Another beautiful, but quiet, contemplative stage of life? Winter? A completely separate beautiful, but often painful season of life. All part of growing. Changing. Becoming. Chrysalis. Incubating. Wait for the hour when a new clarity is born…there is no measuring of time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Enjoy this beautiful season. If your own situation is so painful – then find the eyes of a child that is not yet entering adult years. Find the light. Let the children make us smile. Let us look with wonder at the season of what life is all about – the season of Jesus…the season of birth. The season that brings eternal perspective into all of our stories. May you find peace no matter your own story as you look to the heavens or fall to your knees. Your help is there. A peace that is beyond your understanding will never pass. Our promise. Thank you for letting me enter your world again today. Susan
Latin for this week:
Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis - All things change, and we change with them.
(Here is one more line I just read when looking for the Latin phrase that ties with above thoughts on imagining and daydreaming - "Life is the sum total of the choices we make, not of the dreams we dream." Joseph Stowell.
Everyman's Library. Motherhood: Poems about Mothers (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets). New York. Random House. 2005.
Jacobsen, Jens Peter. Niels Lyhne. White Fish, MT. Kessinger Publishing. 2004.
Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. London. The Folio Society. 2006.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. New York. Random House. 2001.