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The Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
All of Rilke's poems are devastatingly beautiful. The best overall book in English is
'Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke'
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell (bilingual edition: original German and English)
Here are some wonders...
Ignorant Before the Heavens of My Life
Ignorant before the heavens of my life,
I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness
of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.
As if I didn't exist. Do I have any
share in this? Have I somehow dispensed with
their pure effect? Does my blood's ebb and flow
change with their changes? Let me put aside
every desire, every relationship
except this one, so that my heart grows used to
its farthest spaces. Better that it live
fully aware, in the terror of its stars, than
as if protected, soothed by what is near.
Fear of the Inexplicable
But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new,unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.
But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.
We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry,scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us.
[Again and again, however we know the landscape of love]
Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.
(Translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Lord, it is time. This was a very big summer.
Lay your shadows over the sundial,
and let the winds loose on the fields.
Command the last fruits to be full;
give them two more sunny days,
urge them on to fulfillment and throw
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, will never build one.
Whoever is alone now, will long remain so,
Will watch, read, write long letters
and will wander in the streets, here and there
restlessly, when the leaves blow.
(translated by Barbara Abbott and Larry Hauser)
Finally, here is a link to Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" (trans. Stephen Mitchell):
Last edited by questers, 6/3/2004, 7:05 pm
6/3/2004, 12:53 am
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