The Flower and the Stone: Odes to a Singular Earth

Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

~ Walt Whitman

There is only one earth, and it is beautiful beyond comparison, and there is no comparison; for there is only one earth.

~ Anonymous

Here are two more odes to the wonder that is our planet, still exceeding beautiful despite what man has done to it. The first is a poem by the incomparable Maria Rainer Rilke (1875-1926), known for the force of his prose and poetry that probe the anxiety and solitude that is the human condition. Here, however, is a rare poem by Rilke about caring for the earth, given the same emotional urgency that is typical of the great poet’s body of work. I pair Rilke’s poem with a beautiful song by the folk singer-nature lover, John Denver (1943-1997), in a piece entitled “The Flower that Shattered the Stone”, a song that appeals to the soft side of humanity to cherish the earth for all that it gives.

From the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us;
to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Translated from German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

As the river runs freely the mountain does rise
Let me touch with my fingers and see with my eyes
In the hearts of the children of pure love still roams
Like a bright star in heaven that lights our way home
Like the flower that shattered the stone.

‘The Flower That Shattered the Stone’ is the 23rd studio album by American singer-songwriter John Denver. It was released in September 1990. Words and lyrics by Joe Henry and John Jarvis.

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