The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

By Title T-Z

Telling You All

Telling you all would take too long.
Besides, we read in the Bible
how the good is harmful
and how misfortune is good.

Let’s invite something new
by unifying our silences;
if, then and there, we advance,
we’ll know it soon enough.

And yet towards evening,
when his memory is persistent,
one belated curiousity
stops him before the mirror.

We don’t know if he is frightened.
But he stays, he is engrossed,
and, facing his reflection,
transports himself somewhere else.

~Translated by A. Poulin

To Lou Andreas-Salome

I held myself too open, I forgot
that outside not just things exist and animals
fully at ease in themselves, whose eyes
reach from their lives’ roundedness no differently
than portraits do from frames; forgot that I
with all I did incessantly crammed
looks into myself; looks, opinion, curiosity.
Who knows: perhaps eyes form in space
and look on everywhere. Ah, only plunged toward you
does my face cease being on display, grows
into you and twines on darkly, endlessly,
into your sheltered heart.

As one puts a handkerchief before pent-in-breath-
no: as one presses it against a wound
out of which the whole of life, in a single gush,
wants to stream, I held you to me: I saw you
turn red from me. How could anyone express
what took place between us? We made up for everything
there was never time for. I matured strangely
in every impulse of unperformed youth,
and you, love, had wildest childhood over my heart.

Memory won’t suffice here: from those moments
there must be layers of pure existence
on my being’s floor, a precipitate
from that immensely overfilled solution.

For I don’t think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don’t invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you’ve gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.

To Music

Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:
silence of paintings. You language where all language
ends. You time
standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.

Feelings for whom? O you the transformation
of feelings into what?-: into audible landscape.
You stranger: music. You heart-space
grown out of us. The deepest space in us,
which, rising above us, forces its way out,-
holy departure:
when the innermost point in us stands
outside, as the most practiced distance, as the other
side of the air:
pure,
boundless,
no longer habitable.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

To Say Before Going to Sleep

I would like to sing someone to sleep,
have someone to sit by and be with.
I would like to cradle you and softly sing,
be your companion while you sleep or wake.
I would like to be the only person
in the house who knew: the night outside was cold.
And would like to listen to you
and outside to the world and to the woods.

The clocks are striking, calling to eachother,
and one can see right to the edge of time.
Outside the house a strange man is afoot
and a strange dog barks, wakened from his sleep.
Beyond that there is silence.

My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;
and they hold you gently, letting you go
when something in the dark begins to move.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Unicorn

The saintly hermit, midway through his prayers
stopped suddenly, and raised his eyes to witness
the unbelievable: for there before him stood
the legendary creature, startling white, that
had approached, soundlessly, pleading with his eyes.

The legs, so delicately shaped, balanced a
body wrought of finest ivory. And as
he moved, his coat shone like reflected moonlight.
High on his forehead rose the magic horn, the sign
of his uniqueness: a tower held upright
by his alert, yet gentle, timid gait.

The mouth of softest tints of rose and grey, when
opened slightly, revealed his gleaming teeth,
whiter than snow. The nostrils quivered faintly:
he sought to quench his thirst, to rest and find repose.
His eyes looked far beyond the saint’s enclosure,
reflecting vistas and events long vanished,
and closed the circle of this ancient mystic legend.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Venetian Morning

Windows pampered like princes always see
what on occasion deigns to trouble us:
the city that, time and again, where a shimmer
of sky strikes a feeling of floodtide,

takes shape without once choosing to be.
Each new morning must first show her the opals
she wore yesterday, and pull rows
of reflections out of the canal
and remind her of the other times:
only then does she concede and settle in

like a nymph who received great Zeus.
The dangling earrings ring out at her ear;
but she lifts San Giorgio Maggiore
and smiles idly into that lovely thing.

~Translated by Edward Snow

The Voices

The rich and fortunate do well to keep silent,
for no one cares to know who and what they are.
But those in need must reveal themselves,
must say: I am blind,
or: I’m on the verge of going blind,
or: nothing goes well with me on earth,
or: I have a sickly child,
or: I have little to hold me together…

And chances are this is not nearly enough.

And because people try to ignore them as they
pass by them: these unfortunate ones have to sing!

And at times one hears some excellent singing!

Of course, people differ in their tastes: some would
prefer to listen to choirs of boy-castrati.

But God himself comes often and stays long,
when the castrati’s singing disturbs Him.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Song of the Beggar (The Voices)

I am always going from door to door,
whether in rain or heat,
and sometimes I will lay my right ear in
the palm of my right hand.
And as I speak my voice seems strange as if
it were alien to me,

for I’m not certain whose voice is crying:
mine or someone else’s.
I cry for a pittance to sustain me.
The poets cry for more.

In the end I conceal my entire face
and cover both my eyes;
there it lies in my hands with all its weight
and looks as if at rest,
so no one may think I had no place where-
upon to lay my head.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Song of the Blindman (The Voices)

I am blind, you out there — that is a curse,
against one’s will, a contradiction,
a heavy daily burden.
I lay my hand on the arm of my wife,
my grey hand upon her greyer grey,
as she guides me through empty spaces.

You move about and stir, and imagine
your sounds differing from stone to stone.
But you are mistaken: I alone
live and suffer and complain, for
in me is an endless crying,
and I do not know whether it is
my heart that cries or my bowels.

Do you recognize these songs? You never sang them,
not quite with this intonation.
For you every morning brings its new light
warm through your open windows.
And you have the feeling from face to face
that tempts you to be indulgent.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Song of the Orphan (The Voices)

I am no one and never will be anyone,
for I am far too small to claim to be;
not even later.

Mothers and Fathers,
take pity on me.

I fear it will not pay to raise me:
I shall fall victim to the mower’s scythe.
No one can find me useful now: I am too young,
and tomorrow will be too late.

I only have one dress,
worn thin and faded,
but it will last an eternity
even before God, perhaps.

I only have this whispy hair
(that always remained the same)
yet once was someone’s dearest love.

Now he has nothing that he loves.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Song of the Widow (The Voices)

In the beginning life was good to me;
it held me warm and gave me courage.
That this is granted all while in their youth,
how could I then have known of this.
I never knew what living was—-.
But suddenly it was just year on year,
no more good, no more new, no more wonderful.
Life had been torn in two right down the middle.

That was not his fault nor mine
since both of us had nothing but patience;
but death has none.
I saw him coming (how rotten he looked),
and I watched him as he took and took:
and nothing was mine.

What, then, belonged to me; was mine, my own?
Was not even this utter wretchedness
on loan to me by fate?
Fate does not only claim your happiness,
it also wants your pain back and your tears
and buys the ruin as something useless, old.

Fate was present and acquired for a nothing
every expression my face is capable of,
even to the way I walk.
The daily diminishing of me went on
and after I was emptied fate gave me up
and left me standing there, abandoned.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

The Wait

It is life in slow motion,
it’s the heart in reverse,
it’s a hope-and-a-half:
too much and too little at once.

It’s a train that suddenly
stops with no station around,
and we can hear the cricket,
and, leaning out the carriage

door, we vainly contemplate
a wind we feel that stirs
the blooming meadows, the meadows
made imaginary by this stop.

~Translated by A. Poulin

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

~Translated by Robert Bly

Water Lily

My whole life is mine, but whoever says so
will deprive me, for it is infinite.
The ripple of water, the shade of the sky
are mine; it is still the same, my life.

No desire opens me: I am full,
I never close myself with refusal-
in the rythm of my daily soul
I do not desire-I am moved;

by being moved I exert my empire,
making the dreams of night real:
into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyonds of mirrors…

~Translated by A. Poulin

[What fields are as fragrant as your hands?]

What fields are as fragrant as your hands?
You feel how external fragrance stands
upon your stronger resistance.
Stars stand in images above.
Give me your mouth to soften, love;
ah, your hair is all in idleness.

See, I want to surround you with yourself
and the faded expectation lift
from the edges of your eyebrows;
I want, as with inner eyelids sheer,
to close for you all places which appear
by my tender caresses now.

~Translated by John J.L. Mood

What Survives

Who says that all must vanish?
Who knows, perhaps the flight
of the bird you wound remains,
and perhaps flowers survive
caresses in us, in their ground.

It isn’t the gesture that lasts,
but it dresses you again in gold
armor -from breast to knees-
and the battle was so pure
an Angel wears it after you.

~Translated by A. Poulin

Woman in Love

That is my window. Just now
I have so softly wakened.
I thought that I would float.
How far does my life reach,
and where does the night begin

I could think that everything
was still me all around;
transparent like a crystal’s
depths, darkened, mute.

I could keep even the stars
within me; so immense
my heart seems to me; so willingly
it let him go again.

whom I began perhaps to love, perhaps to hold.
Like something strange, undreamt-of,
my fate now gazes at me.

For what, then, am I stretched out
beneath this endlessness,
exuding fragrance like a meadow,
swayed this way and that,

calling out and frightened
that someone will hear the call,
and destined to disappear
inside some other life.

~Translated by Edward Snow

[World was in the face of the beloved]

World was in the face of the beloved-,
but suddenly it poured out and was gone:
world is outside, world can not be grasped.

Why didn’t I, from the full, beloved face
as I raised it to my lips, why didn’t I drink
world, so near that I couldn’t almost taste it?

Ah, I drank. Insatiably I drank.
But I was filled up also, with too much
world, and, drinking, I myself ran over.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

You who never arrived

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

You, you only, exist

You, you only, exist.
We pass away, till at last,
our passing is so immense
that you arise: beautiful moment,
in all your suddenness,
arising in love, or enchanted
in the contraction of work.

To you I belong, however time may
wear me away. From you to you
I go commanded. In between
the garland is hanging in chance; but if you
take it up and up and up: look:
all becomes festival!

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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