An essay, glasses and a red pen

A Poem for Parents Dropping Off Their First-Year Students

At Parent Orientations this summer, I read the following poem by Rainer Maria Rilke to remind us all what the larger meaning of this experience is. In doing so, I was following the tradition of my predecessor, Provost Faye Crosby.

Portrait of Poet Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1900 (Public Domain)

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
Where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid.

Pour yourself like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne
becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

(translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
from Roger Housden, ed., Ten Poems to Change your Life Again and Again (Harmony, 2007).