The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

By Title A-D

Adam

High above he stands, beside the many
saintly figures fronting the cathedral’s
gothic tympanum, close by the window
called the rose, and looks astonished at his

own deification which placed him there.
Erect and proud he smiles, and quite enjoys
this feat of his survival, willed by choice.

As labourer in the fields he made his start
and through his efforts brought to full fruition
the garden God named Eden. But where was
the hidden path that led to the New Earth?

God would not listen to his endless pleas.
Instead, He threatened him that he shall die.
Yet Adam stood his ground: Eve shall give birth.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

[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

[Along the sun-drenched roadside, from the great]

Along the sun-drenched roadside, from the great
hollow half-treetrunk, which for generations
has been a trough, renewing in itself
an inch or two of rain, I satisfy
my thirst: taking the water’s pristine coolness
into my whole body through my wrists.
Drinking would be too powerful, too clear;
but this unhurried gesture of restraint
fills my whole consciousness with shining water.

Thus, if you came, I could be satisfied
to let my hand rest lightly, for a moment,
lightly, upon your shoulder or your breast.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The Apple Orchard

Come let us watch the sun go down
and walk in twilight through the orchard’s green.
Does it not seem as if we had for long
collected, saved and harbored within us
old memories? To find releases and seek
new hopes, remembering half-forgotten joys,
mingled with darkness coming from within,
as we randomly voice our thoughts aloud
wandering beneath these harvest-laden trees
reminiscent of Durer woodcuts, branches
which, bent under the fully ripened fruit,
wait patiently, trying to outlast, to
serve another season’s hundred days of toil,
straining, uncomplaining, by not breaking
but succeeding, even though the burden
should at times seem almost past endurance.
Not to falter! Not to be found wanting!

Thus must it be, when willingly you strive
throughout a long and uncomplaining life,
committed to one goal: to give yourself!
And silently to grow and to bear fruit.

~Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

[As once the winged energy of delight]

As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions…For the god
wants to know himself in you.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

~Translated by Robert Bly

Before Summer Rain

Suddenly, from all the green around you,
something-you don’t know what-has disappeared;
you feel it creeping closer to the window,
in total silence. From the nearby wood

you hear the urgent whistling of a plover,
reminding you of someone’s Saint Jerome:
so much solitude and passion come
from that one voice, whose fierce request the downpour

will grant. The walls, with their ancient portraits, glide
away from us, cautiously, as though
they weren’t supposed to hear what we are saying.

And reflected on the faded tapestries now;
the chill, uncertain sunlight of those long
childhood hours when you were so afraid.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Blank Joy

She who did not come, wasn’t she determined
nonetheless to organize and decorate my heart?
If we had to exist to become the one we love,
what would the heart have to create?

Lovely joy left blank, perhaps you are
the center of all my labors and my loves.
If I’ve wept for you so much, it’s because
I preferred you among so many outlined joys.

~Translated by A. Poulin

Childhood

It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely -and why?

We’re still reminded-: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on

as back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.

And became as lonely as a sheperd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
and summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us.

~Translated by Edward Snow

Child in Red

Sometimes she walks through the village in her
little red dress
all absorbed in restraining herself,
and yet, despite herself, she seems to move
according to the rhythm of her life to come.

She runs a bit, hesitates, stops,
half-turns around…
and, all while dreaming, shakes her head
for or against.

Then she dances a few steps
that she invents and forgets,
no doubt finding out that life
moves on too fast.

It’s not so much that she steps out
of the small body enclosing her,
but that all she carries in herself
frolics and ferments.

It’s this dress that she’ll remember
later in a sweet surrender;
when her whole life is full of risks,
the little red dress will always seem right.

Translated by A. Poulin

Death

Come thou, thou last one, whom I recognize,
unbearable pain throughout this body’s fabric:
as I in my spirit burned, see, I now burn in thee:
the wood that long resisted the advancing flames
which thou kept flaring, I now am nourishinig
and burn in thee.

My gentle and mild being through thy ruthless fury
has turned into a raging hell that is not from here.
Quite pure, quite free of future planning, I mounted
the tangled funeral pyre built for my suffering,
so sure of nothing more to buy for future needs,
while in my heart the stored reserves kept silent.

Is it still I, who there past all recognition burn?
Memories I do not seize and bring inside.
O life! O living! O to be outside!
And I in flames. And no one here who knows me.

Written in December 1926, this poem was the last
entry in Rilke’s notebook, less than two weeks before his
death at age 51.

Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Dedication to M…

Swing of the heart. O firmly hung, fastened on what
invisible branch. Who, who gave you the push,
that you swung with me into the leaves?
How near I was to the exquisite fruits. But not-staying
is the essence of this motion. Only the nearness, only
toward the forever-too-high, all at once the possible
nearness. Vicinities, then
from an irresistibly swung-up-to place
-already, once again, lost-the new sight, the outlook.
And now: the commanded return
back and across and into equilbrium’s arms.
Below, in between, hesitation, the pull of earth, the passage
through the turning-point of the heavy-, past it: and the
catapult stretches,
weighted with the heart’s curiosity,
to the other side, opposite, upward.
Again how different, how new! How they envy each other
at the ends of the rope, these opposite halves of pleasure.

Or, shall I dare it: these quarters?-And include, since it
witholds itself, that other half-circle, the one whose impetus pushes the
swing? I’m not just imagining it, as the mirror of my here-and-now
arc. Guess nothing. It will be newer someday.
But from endpoint to endpoint
of the arc that I have most dared, I already fully possess it:
overflowings from me plunge over to it and fill it,
stretch it apart, almost. And my own parting,
when the force that pushes me someday
stops, makes it all the more near.

~Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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