His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Poem By Rainer Maria Rilke
English translation by Stephen Mitchell
The poem is about the state in which the mighty panther who’s supposed to be sprinting freely in the woods, hunting with its instincts and racing with the winds, finds itself. The bars seem seamless and it is unaware of the world that exists beyond it, unaware of its own strength. Its will is paralysed. There is still the glint of a ferocious instinct in the eyes but eventually as its nerve traverses through the stressed reality it loses heart and succumbs to what is. The helpless acceptance rips it off its identity. The wild will never be tamed, they can be fenced and are as good as dead.
This poem is so close to explaining depression and anxiety, where one sees the bars but forgets about one’s inner strength and courage. The image of freedom enters and dies in their stifled heart. They pace in one place with anxiety, they want to break free but they don’t know the world beyond the hedges in their mind. The fences of limiting beliefs, of trauma, of abuse, of the ear splitting noises in their head keeps them frozen.
They do not relate to the identity that is sometimes impressed upon them by the power driven gaslighters or by the well-meaning helpers or the soft and pampering relatives or the entitled hyper-positivity advocates out there. They are essentially free spirited humans whose will got paralysed in trying to cope up with ways of the world.
Depression has many facets and one is to constantly see the bars that limit oneself from being whole. Sometimes the fence is an illusion and one leap forward can be their breakthrough. Sometimes they need to grow like the oak tree and be strong in the heart before they break free. Nevertheless it is important to know that you are not your debilitating depression, you are not the nerve wrecking anxiety, you are not your fears, you are not the labels. You are not the house cat, you are the mighty panther. Hold that thought and feel your inner strength rising like the phoenix.