The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

By Title H-N

Heartbeat

Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart
which safely exists in the center of all things?
His giant heartbeat is diverted in us
into little pulses. And his giant grief
is, like his giant jubilation, far too
great for us. And so we tear ourselves away
from him time after time, remaining only
mouths. But unexepectedly and secretly
the giant heartbeat enters our being,
so that we scream….,
and are transformed in being and in countenance.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

[If We Surrendered]

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So like children, we begin again…

to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

~Book of Hours

Interior Portrait

You don’t survive in me
because of memories;
nor are you mine because
of a lovely longing’s strength.

What does make you present
is the ardent detour
that a slow tenderness
traces in my blood.

I do not need
to see you appear;
being born sufficed for me
to lose you a little less.

~Translated by A. Poulin

In the Beginning

Ever since those wondrous days of Creation
our Lord God sleeps: we are His sleep.
And He accepted this in His indulgence,
resigned to rest among the distant stars.

Our actions stopped Him from reacting,
for His fist-tight hand is numbed by sleep,
and the times brought in the age of heroes
during which our dark hearts plundered Him.

Sometimes He appears as if tormented,
and His body jerks as if plagued by pain;
but these spells are always outweighed by the
number of His countless other worlds.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Lady at a Mirror

As in sleeping-drink spices
softly she loosens in the liquid-clear
mirror her fatigued demeanor;
and she puts her smile deep inside.

And she waits while the liquid
rises from it; then she pours her hair
into the mirror, and, lifting one
wondrous shoulder from the evening gown,

she drinks quietly from her image. She drinks
what a lover would drink feeling dazed,
searching it, full of mistrust; and she only

beckons to her maid when at the bottom
of her mirror she finds candles, wardrobes,
and the cloudy dregs of a late hour.

~Translated by Edward Snow

Lady on a Balcony

Suddenly she steps, wrapped into the wind,
brightly into brightness, as if singled out,
while now the room as though cut to fit
behind her fills the door

darkly like the ground of cameo,
that lets a glimmer through at the edges;
and you think the evening wasn’t there
before she stepped out, and on the railing

set forth just a little of herself,
just her hands, -to be completely light:
as if passed on by the rows of houses
to the heavens, to be swayed by everything.

~Translated by Edward Snow

Lament

O how all things are far removed
and long have passed away.
I do believe the star,
whose light my face reflects,
is dead and has been so
for many thousand years.

I had a vision of a passing boat
and heard some voices saying disquieting things.
I heard a clock strike in some distant house…
but in which house?…

I long to quiet my anxious heart
and stand beneath the sky’s immensity.
I long to pray…
And one of all the stars
must still exist.
I do believe that I would know
which one alone
endured,
and which like a white city stands
at the ray’s end shining in the heavens.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Last Evening

And night and distant rumbling; now the army’s
carrier-train was moving out, to war.
He looked up from the harpsichord, and as
he went on playing, he looked across at her

almost as one might gaze into a mirror:
so deeply was her every feature filled
with his young features, which bore his pain and were
more beautiful and seductive with each sound.

Then, suddenly, the image broke apart.
She stood, as though distracted, near the window
and felt the violent drum-beats of her heart.

His playing stopped. From outside, a fresh wind blew.
And strangely alien on the mirror-table
stood the black shako with its ivory skull.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

On seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, Milan 1904.
~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Little Tear-Vase

Other vessels hold wine, other vessels hold oil
inside the hollowed-out vault circumscribed by their clay.
I, as smaller measure, and as the slimmest of all,
humbly hollow myself so that just a few tears can fill me.

Wine becomes richer, oil becomes clear, in its vessel.
What happens with tears?-They made me blind in my
glass,
made me heavy and made my curve iridescent,
made me brittle, and left me empty at last.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Loneliness

Being apart and lonely is like rain.
It climbs toward evening from the ocean plains;
from flat places, rolling and remote, it climbs
to heaven, which is its old abode.
And only when leaving heaven drops upon the city.

It rains down on us in those twittering
hours when the streets turn their faces to the dawn,
and when two bodies who have found nothing,
dissapointed and depressed, roll over;
and when two people who despise eachother
have to sleep together in one bed-

that is when loneliness receives the rivers…

~Translated by Robert Bly

The Lovers

See how in their veins all becomes spirit;
into each other they mature and grow.
Like axles, their forms tremblingly orbit,
round which it whirls, bewitching and aglow.
Thirsters, and they receive drink,
watchers, and see: they receive sight.
Let them into one another sink
so as to endure each other outright.

~Translated by John J.L.Mood

Love Song

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn’t touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn’t resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin’s bow,
which draws one voice out of two seperate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Moving Forward

The deep parts of my life pour onward,
as if the river shores were opening out.
It seems that things are more like me now,
That I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can’t reach.
With my senses, as with birds, I climb
into the windy heaven, out of the oak,
in the ponds broken off from the sky
my falling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

~Translated by Robert Bly

Music

Take me by the hand;
it’s so easy for you, Angel,
for you are the road
even while being immobile.

You see, I’m scared no one
here will look for me again;
I couldn’t make use of
whatever was given,

so they abandoned me.
At first the solitude
charmed me like a prelude,
but so much music wounded me.

~Translated by A. Poulin

Narcissus

Encircled by her arms as by a shell,
she hears her being murmur,
while forever he endures
the outrage of his too pure image…

Wistfully following their example,
nature re-enters herself;
contemplating its own sap, the flower
becomes too soft, and the boulder hardens…

It’s the return of all desire that enters
toward all life embracing itself from afar…
Where does it fall? Under the dwindling
surface, does it hope to renew a center?

~Translated by A. Poulin

The Neighbor

Strange violin, why do you follow me?
In how many foreign cities did you
speak of your lonely nights and those of mine.
Are you being played by hundreds? Or by one?

Do in all great cities men exist
who tormented and in deep despair
would have sought the river but for you?
And why does your playing always reach me?

Why is it that I am always neighbor
to those lost ones who are forced to sing
and to say: Life is infinitely heavier
than the heaviness of all things.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Night

This night, agitated by the growing storm,
how it has suddenly expanded its dimensions–,
that ordinarily would have gone unnoticed,
like a cloth folded, and hidden in the folds of time.

Where the stars give resistance it does not stop there,
neither does it begin within the forest’s depths,
nor show upon the surface of my face
nor with your appearance.

The lamps keep swaying, fully unaware:
is our light lying?
Is night the only reality
that has endured through thousands of years?

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

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