Encroaching blindness as seen through the eyes of a poet

11 Aug Encroaching blindness as seen through the eyes of a poet

poet Rainer Maria RilkeThe Prague-born poet Rainer Maria Rilke [1875 – 1926] wrote some stunningly beautiful poems.  One of them, entitled Going Blind, tells of a woman who is losing her sight.  Here is the poem:

 

Going Blind

 

She sat just like the others at the table.

But on second glance, she seemed to hold her cup

a little differently as she picked it up.

She smiled once. It was almost painful.

 

And when they finished and it was time to stand

and slowly, as chance selected them, they left

and moved through many rooms (they talked and laughed),

I saw her. She was moving far behind

 

the others, absorbed, like someone who will soon

have to sing before a large assembly;

upon her eyes, which were radiant with joy,

light played as on the surface of a pool.

 

She followed slowly, taking a long time,

as though there were some obstacle in the way;

and yet: as though, once it was overcome,

she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.

 

 

It is striking that the writer of the poem—the observer—is so attentive to the woman’s fine movements.  His eyesight and her sense of space and atmosphere almost seem to connect them on some etheric plane.  He knows, it seems, that she is discovering an inner source of strength and wisdom, and is therefore not sorry for her.  Rather, he feels her inner hope.  She is poised on the brink of a whole new way of living, and far from being oppressive, it promises to set her free.

 

Indeed, blindness does this.  It presents a choice; namely, fight to stay abreast of the conversation and keep up with the jostling crowd, or find a different groove.  Why not glide in the wake of the activity, take note of the shifts in air pressure, feel the subtle changes in temperature,, and hear the almost imperceptible background hum of the house?  It is consciousness of a different kind.  There is a sort of special privilege in attending to what the others miss.  The woman is not about to take the stage and sing, as the gleam in her eyes might suggest, but she is aware of ascending.  She is ascending to something which she has yet to comprehend or fully trust.

 

Moreover, the lyrical language of the poem is utterly serene and dignified.  It honours the woman who is going blind.  And so it should be.  Sight loss is nothing more than switching to a different frequency.  Blind people simply find different truths to tell.

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