Too Alone

May 18, 2006 at 4:00 pm 6 comments

Rainer Maria Rilke

Listen (to Pavi read)

I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy
I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing—
just as it is.

(this, the poem that fell out when I opened the book after getting
home. an unconscious echo of this evening’s thoughts- spoken and un.
this moment is holy. we see things not as they but we are- even, and
maybe especially- ourselves. rilke’s self-reflexive twist) [1]

I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones—
or alone.

I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.

I would describe myself like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtimes;

like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.

– From Rilke’s Book Of Hours translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy

The german original,

Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug

Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug,
um jede Stunde zu weihn.
Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug,
um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding,
dunkel und klug.

Ich will dich immer spiegeln in ganzer Gestalt,
und will niemals blind sein oder zu alt,
um dein schweres, schwankendes Bild zu halten.
Ich will mich entfalten.

Nirgends will ich gebogen bleiben;
denn dort bin ich gelogen, wo ich gebogen bin.
Und ich will meinen Sinn wahr vor dir …

This comes from a deeply spiritual collection of poems by Rilke. The “Book of Hours: Love Poems to God” (– his version of love mysticism perhaps?) [2].

Rilke’s choice of subjects and his precision in expressing them make themes that are often neglected in poetry (and prose) outshine more dramatic subjects and ornate writing.

“… as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; … rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. … – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not.” [3]

Welcome Pavi! [4]


[1] Anaïs Nin puts it as, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

[2] As in Sufi poetry – God becomes the beloved. And there is no Without – God cannot exist without you and you cannot without God . A snippet from another poem in the collection,

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

…What will you do, God? I am afraid.

[3] Letter 1, from Letters To A Young Poet

[4] One more added to the list of people who will kill for poetry – this month has been good – Hatshepsut, Pavi … : ) Look forward to their contributions (and their own insightful commentary) in the future…

Pavi, my fellow Rilke-lover – in our very first conversation she enlightened me on the importance of precision in poetry. On the difficulty in choosing the right words/expressions in poetry. Many words can express the same physical object, but each of them can trigger a distinct emotion(al memory). And a poem works or fails based on its ability to awaken that precise emotion. What better way to introduce her, than with a Rilke recording :)

Dear Contributors, do keep sending in your lovely selection of recordings, we love being challenged, surprised and tickled by your contributions.

[5] The other Rilke we ran – You Who Never Arrived



Entry filed under: Anita Barrows, Black Mamba, English, German, Joanna Macy, Pavi, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Eyes and Tears Tum kya gaye ke rooth gaye din bahar ke

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. hatshepsut  |  May 18, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    pavi, baby.
    your reading was gorgeous. was not familiar with this rilke – thank you. disorienting and way cool to see you here.

    with good-luck scarabs, love and peace that passeth understanding,


  • 2. pō’ĭ-trē » Holy Sonnet 14  |  June 3, 2006 at 12:51 am

    […] Pavi's recording of Rilke two weeks back made me think of this Donne sonnet, if only for the 'Love poems to God' connection. […]

  • 3. pō’ĭ-trē » All Who Seek You  |  June 13, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    […] We also ran ‘Too Alone‘ from the same collection. […]

  • 4. Hatshepsut  |  February 1, 2007 at 1:44 am

    gah. i feel a little cheated. there’s nothing about pitchers or ships, mother’s faces or raging waters in this poem of rilke. beautiful though those images are, they change rilke’s original version, drastically.

    a swiss professor of mine gave me his translation of the poem for my wedding last month and i thought it was stunning. i also thought it was a different poem. his translation is on the literal side, but it makes the poem sound completely different from the barrows-macy translation. i’m curious to hear what people’s reactions are to the 2 translations.

    the other translation:

    I want to always mirror you in your whole shape,

    And want to never be blind or too old

    To hold your heavy, swaying image.

    I want to unfold

    Nowhere do I want to be bent,

    For where I am bent I am lying

    And I want my sense true before you…

  • 5. Wu-wei? Woo! Way! « Lotus Among Magnolias  |  January 19, 2010 at 2:49 am

    […] I’ve found that this experience comes most readily and is most transformative when I’m engaged in collective efforts that require me to align my personal interests with that of others or with that of an organization or a cause greater than myself.  It is in these moments that I’ve experienced the “irresistible form of soft and invisible power” that is said to manifest through wu wei. It is a feeling of being “effortless” in the sense that the work doesn’t seem to involve my effort but requires being open to and accepting of a motivation apart from my own.  ”I want to know my own will and to move with it  . . . / I want to unfold. / Let no place in me hold itself closed, for where I am closed, I am false” (Rainer Maria Rilke). […]

  • 6. Too Alone « EverythingIsMetaphor  |  May 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    […] Too Alone – Rainer Maria Rilke […]


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