Some Poets on Boundaries and Differentiation

Two of my favorite poets are the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the Lebanese American poet Kahlil Girban. One of the things that has drawn me to these two poets, especially when they write on love and marriage is the way in which they speak of relational boundaries, specifically what we talk of in marriage therapy as differentiation. This has always been intriguing to me, but even more so as I work with couples in therapy.

I wrote this at the end of April concerning differentiation:
Schnarch will often say that differentiation is knowing where one begins, and one ends. Or the balance between one’s desire for belonging/relationship, and the desire for freedom/independence.

Knowing where one begins, and one ends in a relationship/marriage, as well as the balance between one’s desire for belonging and independence is something that I think Rilke and Gibran capture beautifully.

Enjoy the two entries by Rilke and the one by Gibran:

“On Love & Other Difficulties…”

Rilke on Marriage…

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
May 14, 1904, Rome

“To love is good, too: love being difficult.

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.
With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love.

But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is–solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves.

Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate–?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”

Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

Marriage

“THEN Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?

And he answered saying:

You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness.

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

4 Comments

  1. by sue on May 12, 2009  1:08 pm Reply

    loving this post, rhett. poetry speaks to my english major heart! things read here plus current series at church "staying in love" (http://northpoint.org/message) really growing me as a spouse...

  2. by Bernie on May 12, 2009  2:42 pm Reply

    Rhett - I just read the Gibran in Nouwen's "Reaching Out" at lunch today. I was thinking that I needed to write something about it. Thanks for getting to it first - good work! Love Rilke and Schnarch, particularly Rilke's emphasis on "loving the question" that you see throughout Letters to a Young Poet - a stance that is, of course, highly applicable to our work.

  3. by Rhett Smith on May 12, 2009  8:23 pm Reply

    Sue,

    Awesome. thanks for the comments. I'm glad you like poetry...I didn't know that about you. I will check that series out.

    Bernie,

    Love all those books and authors you just mentioned. Rilke's quote on "loving the question" is something that is constantly with me.

    rhett

  4. Pingback : RHETT SMITH » Transforming Marriage and Family Therapy in Plano, Texas » Rhett Smith Podcast 43: Using the Pain and Peace Cycle to Lead to Differentiation in Relationships

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