Maxwell Peterson (student at Austin College):
"Verteilung, auch am Vertrautesten nicht ist uns gegeben."
The first line of the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "To
Hölderin" has always been profoundly significant to me. Loosely
translated, it means that we are not permitted to linger, even with that
which is most familiar, a concept that I have struggled to internalize
for many years - the painful regret of the thoughtless and hurtful words
I said that ended a friendship and the thought of what a beautiful
relationship we could have had, the longing for a return to the
togetherness of my family before my parents' divorce and the visible
pain and anguish of my parents that came along with one of the most
difficult decisions of their lives, the desire for a class load as easy
as Freshman year, when I could party every single night and still round
out a solid B+ average with not much work. Yes, dwelling on the past is
something that is almost second nature to me, but it hasn't improved my
life in the slightest.
This past Summer after my dad, brother, and I moved into our new house,
leaving ten years of memories in our old home, I found myself yet again
reminiscing for a time that would never return. For a few days, it felt
as though an emptiness was constantly bearing down on me until I came
across Rilke's poem again. This rereading of his poem that I had already
known for years came at just the right time, allowing me to begin to
leave the past in the past. So that very night, I drove downtown to get
those eight words tattooed on the inside of my left arm.
On the drive back home, I went over those words like a mantra, repeating
them over and over again in my head, all the while feeling the more
difficult periods of my life settle down where they belonged - in the
past. When I arrive back at my dad's apartment, I had to read the poem
again before I went to bed, but was absolutely shocked when I read the
"Verweilung, auch am Vertrautesten nicht ist uns gegeben."
The first "t" of my tattoo was supposed to be a "w."
I thought to myself, how could I be so foolish as to misquote one of my
favorite poems? Anyone who can read German or knows Rilke is going to
immediately think less of me. I'm going to have to cover this up when I
study abroad next year. I need to get this fixed immediately.
After a few hours of thoroughly freaking out, it dawned on me that this
mistake was one of the most beautiful that I had ever made. If there is a
better way to internalize the quote, "We are not permitted to linger,
even with that which is most familiar," than to mess it up in a tattoo,
the most familiar of objects, I certainly can't think of it. Certainly,
the past is important and we should respect and learn from it, but
denying new breath, new love, new life, while focusing solely on lost
breath, lost love, lost life is not a way that I want to spend my time.