Name: Emily Orfanides
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Current city: Kavala, Greece
Occupation: Educator, poet
What does poetry mean to you:
Poetry, to me, is where the artist meets truth at the point of contrast between light and dark, heaven and earth, matter and divinity. Poetry is a place that will hold you, when you are losing all sight of meaning, hope and certainty, in unconditional love and acceptance, never once questioning you or your reason. It won’t cradle you, but it will show you your own strength in how to hold yourself. It replenishes you with a deeper acceptance and brings to you a newfound stillness. Poetry is the place you come to, fallen, with a will and a determination to fly, when you have nowhere else to go, but within, to discover the magnificence of your own being in connection with that of existence. The beauty of poetry to me is that it holds the misses of humanity, as well as the alignments, but whereby the misses are so much sweeter, being that they are where we break open to greater possibilities within ourselves, where we obtain a greater capacity of expanding our visions of existence. Poetry can save you, sometimes from the cruelty and misunderstandings of the world, sometimes from yourself, and it can show you something greater, in mirroring yourself back to you, whereby you see the aching and terrifying beauty of all of existence and our human connection in all of it.
What is your favorite poem?
from Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by M. D. Herter Norton
O you tender ones, set now and then
into the breath that takes no heed of you;
let it part as it touches your cheeks,
it will quiver behind you, united again.
O you who are blessed, o you who are whole,
you who seem the beginning of hearts.
Bow for the arrows and targets of arrows,
tear-stained your smile shines more everlasting.
Fear not suffering. the heaviness,
give it back to the weight of the earth;
the mountains are heavy, heavy the oceans.
Even the trees you planted as children
long since grew too heavy, you could not sustain them.
Ah, but the breezes...ah, but the spaces...
Why do you like this poem?
Rilke was introduced to me by my philosophy professor when I was in college, and since then, this poem has always been a significant place of spiritual solace, which has held my hand and made me feel like I belong somewhere, to something, even if only to my own feelings, to philosophical and existential questioning, to longing, to sensitivity, to poetry. The poem speaks about those who feel a deeper sensitivity, a deeper terror, a deeper transcendence, who carry the weight of the world, just within their single hearts. This poem has been a consolation to me because it addresses this individual on the line of contrast between light and dark, (mystical and temporal, spirit and matter, soul and mind), wherein he or she holds a heightened awareness and, thus, holds deeper capacities, not only for feeling (heart) but for enlightenment (mind and soul), which simultaneously bring him or her more heaviness and lightness. “O you who are blessed, O you who are whole, / bows for the arrows, the targets of arrows, / tear-stained your smile shines everlasting…” will forever be one of my most deeply treasured lines ever written.
Life Has Arrived
by Emily Orfanides
In homage to Rainer Maria Rilke, on Life.
Life has arrived to intervene
here, singing a crying melody
singing to me, crying herself to sleep,
longing for what life herself cannot give
to her conduits, not even to herself.
I’ve once tried to comfort her,
to hold her, here in the quiet, in the spaces
between my lungs and the veins that hold
my heart. But she is an entirety that will
never be grasped, that can never be kept.
She is a mystery that has painted eyes
on you, just to let you believe
you are seeing something into her.
And you will try to cling to her,
but she will leave you every time
in the remains of your own connection.
She gave you eyes
made of earth, and you might not
ever truly know her until the day
you lose them.
Life has arrived to intervene
here, and we are all lost
here, feeling our way through.