Posts filed under ‘Rainer Maria Rilke’
Rainer Maria Rilke
Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.
Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.
(translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell)
On the theory that one great poem deserves another, here’s my other favourite end-of-summer poem, this one looking forward to the days to come rather than back to the season past.
We’ve posted a great deal of Rilke on this website in the past, so there’s little new I can say about him here, except that for me this has always been one of his finest poems. I love the abruptness, the certainty of that opening (“Herr: es ist Zeit”) and the terrible, terrible sadness of “Whoever has no house now, will never have one / Whoever is alone will stay alone”. If autumn is the season of resignation, of defeat, then this poem captures that spirit better than anything else.
Stanley Kunitz, in an essay on Rilke (over at the Poetry Foundation), writes: “One of Rilke’s primary ideas, elaborated in The Journal, is that of the proper death: the need of dying one’s own death, of carrying that death within one like the kernel of a fruit, of exhausting all the forces, accidents, and implications of one’s destiny”. ‘Autumn Day’ is a fine elaboration of that principle, of the slow ripening of the inevitable as a source of authentic sorrow.
The original in German:
Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Fruchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei sudlichere Tage,
drange sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Susse in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein is, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Breife schreiben
und wird in den Allen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blatter treiben.
Herbsttag is also one of Rilke’s most widely translated poems – Textetc.com has a round-up of the various translations around, with links to them at the bottom (in footnotes! yaay!), along with an attempt at a new translation.
Rainer Maria Rilke
All who seek you
And those who find you
bind you to image and gesture.
I would rather sense you
as the earth sense you.
In my ripening
what you are.
I need from you no tricks
to prove you exist.
Time, I know,
is other than you.
No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
from generation to generation.
Alle, welche dich suchen, versuchen dich
Alle, welche dich suchen, versuchen dich.
Und die, so dich finden, binden dich
an Bild und Gebärde.
Ich aber will dich begreifen
wie dich die Erde begreift;
mit meinem Reifen
Ich will von dir keine Eitelkeit,
die dich beweist.
Ich weiß, dass die Zeit
Tu mir kein Wunder zulieb.
Gieb deinen Gesetzen recht,
die von Geschlecht zu Geschlecht
From the ‘Book of Hours’. We also ran ‘Too Alone‘ from the same collection.
Rainer Maria Rilke
As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.
And all at once it is completely fire.
One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.
And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die –
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.
'So I took this Flamenco class with this crazy Spanish lady from Juilliard for six months of my life last year. She was an incredible dancer and if I can execute a dramatic and flawless Sevillanas, it’s thanks to her sound, fury and insistence on form. This poem is her. The fire metaphor is just perfect. It’s poems like this one that make me wish I knew German. Come to think of it, I wish I knew Rilke. But I would be settle for just being able to pronounce his name (Honestly, the way it’s written is nothing like the sounds my German friends make when pronouncing his name).'
And the original in german,
Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzundholz, weiss,
eh es zur Flamme komt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiss
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.
Und plotzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.
Mit einem Blick entzundet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.
Und dann: als wurde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmutiger Gebarde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht –
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem sussen
grussenden Lacheln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
Rainer Maria Rilke
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) 
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—
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?) .
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.” 
Welcome Pavi! 
 Anaïs Nin puts it as, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
 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.
 Letter 1, from Letters To A Young Poet
 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.
 The other Rilke we ran – You Who Never Arrived
Rainer Maria Rilke
You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me – the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers, and bridges, and unsuspected
turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods –
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.
You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house – , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon, –
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled,
gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows?
perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, seperate, in the evening…
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
And the German Original:
Du im Voraus
verlorne Geliebte, Nimmergekommene,
nicht weiß ich, welche Töne dir lieb sind.
Nicht mehr versuch ich, dich, wenn das Kommende wogt,
zu erkennen. Alle die großen
Bildern in mir, im Fernen erfahrene Landschaft,
Städte und Türme und Brücken und un-
vermutete Wendung der Wege
und das Gewaltige jener von Göttern
einst durchwachsenen Länder:
steigt zur Bedeutung in mir
deiner, Entgehende, an.
Ach, die Gärten bist du,
ach, ich sah sie mit solcher
Hoffnung. Ein offenes Fenster
im Landhaus—, und du tratest beinahe
mir nachdenklich heran. Gassen fand ich,—
du warst sie gerade gegangen,
und die spiegel manchmal der Läden der Händler
waren noch schwindlich von dir und gaben erschrocken
mein zu plötzliches Bild.—Wer weiß, ob derselbe
Vogel nicht hinklang durch uns
gestern, einzeln, im Abend?
The hallmark of a great poem is its ability to make you feel nostalgic for things you’ve never had, the things you have forgotten to be. Rilke’s verses ache with that sense of loss – they are poems that time and translation have worn to a slow beauty – like ancient sculpture they have the ability to make us recognise ourselves in the images of a lost age. Rilke is the poet of terrifying angels, at once Orpheus and Apollo, at once lyrical and profound.
This poem, an unpublished fragment, exemplifies this quality of Rilke’s work. It is an exquisitely beautiful poem (and Mitchell’s translation is, as always, superb), one that captures perfectly that sense of absence, of something just missed. “And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors / were still dizzy with your presence” Rilke writes. It’s precisely that dizziness of presence that makes Rilke’s poems so special.