Sunday, October 24, 2004

It is time.

As I walked along the river yesterday I kept hearing the opening words of Rilke's "Autumn Day."

Lord: it is time.

Herr: es ist Zeit.

It was, of course, an autumn day, dark, raw, disheveled, threatening rain. Despite two pairs of socks, my feet were cold. The holes in the index fingers of my thin, black gloves were enlarging. Lord: It is time. Time for what ?

It is time to buy gloves. To lower the storm windows. To change my life.

The phrase is similar in English and German: the prayerful salutation, the colon's stark pause, the simple declaration. A translator's dream. Even the sounds -- the soft r's of Lord and Herr, then the thinner, harder i's and t's -- are close.

It is time. All of it. The beginning, middle and end. The folding and the unfolding. The brown river running east behind the trees. The books of photos from lavender grape hyachinth pushing out from under pine needles to the dusky purple-black of the bittersweet nightshade leaves. The "immense," the "huge," the "sehr groƟ" summer dwindling to tatters on skeletal branches and vines. These cold hands that will get colder and colder still.

The phrase recalls the biblical utterance It is finished. It is over. Christ is dead. The last chord sounds, and silence follows. The music persists as pure potential, ready to be resurrected at any moment in any ear. Or, from the Vulgate: Consummatum est. In Rilke's poem there is the Vollendung, the fulfillment, the completion, the consummation of summer's fruits. And Christ crucified is not simply finished. He is ripe. Ready for harvest, for our tables. Our tongues. The German bible reads Es ist vollbracht. Brought to fullness. Achieved. Voll. Full.

And in Greek, the language of the New testament ? An oddly actuarial phrase. Tetelestai. Paid in full. The transaction is complete. You are the proud owner. Your debt is paid off. You ate the forbidden apple, Death gaped in you. Here is the fruit that will fill that abyss. Eat it and you'll be whole again.

I have no church now and will never have one. My body, my hermitage is permeable to wind and rain. My monastary is the wide, fractured world. Everything in it is scripture, ideogram: branches against sky, emerging ribs of leaves, fallen pine-needles, feathers, stalks, pods, nuts, tendrils, tufts, burrs, seeds. And every word that evokes it seems a prayer.

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