Rainer Maria Rilke

Twenty More Poems

The Evil Spirits, Auguste Rodin

‘The Evil Spirits’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The National Gallery of Art

Read more Rilke, with a commentary on the Elegies entitled The Fountain of Joy.

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


Lament

How far it all is,

And long gone by.

I believe that star

From which light glitters

Is a million years dead.

I believe, I heard

Something fearful said,

In the boat that floated by.

In the house a clock

Chimed…

In which house?…

I’d like to step out of my heart,

Beneath the vast sky.

I’d like to pray.

And one of all those stars

Must still remain.

I think I know

Which one

Has permanence –

Which one, like a bright city,

Stands, at the end of the sky’s radiance.

Head of Sorrow, Auguste Rodin

‘Head of Sorrow’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The Yale University Art Gallery

Evening

Slowly the evening draws on its coat

Held out to it by a row of ancient trees:

You gaze: and the landscape splits in two,

One part lifting skywards, while one falls,

Leaving you not quite part of anything,

Not quite so dark as the house, the silent one,

Not quite as surely invoking the eternal,

As that which turns to star, each night, rising –

Leaving you (indescribably, to unravel)

Your anxious, immense, and ripening life:

So that, now bounded, and now grasped,

It becomes, in turn, stone in you, and star.

The Panther

(In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris)

His gaze is so wearied from the bars

Passing by, that it can hold no more.

It’s as if a thousand bars were given him:

And behind the thousand bars, no world.

The soft pace of his powerful, supple stride,

That draws him round in tightened circles,

Is like the dance of force about a centre,

In which a greater will stands paralysed.

Only, at times, the curtain of his pupils

Silently rises – Then an image enters,

Rushes through his tense, arrested limbs,

And echoing, inside his heart, is gone.

The Gazelle

(Gazella Dorcas)

Bewitched one: how can two chosen names

Ever achieve the harmony of rhyme

That comes and goes in you, as at a sign.

Out of your brow, branch and lyre climb,

And all you are already, in simile,

Passes through songs of love, whose words,

Soft as rose petals, rest across the eyes

Of one who, no longer reading, closes them.

And sees you: tensed, as if you were

A gun-barrel loaded now with leaps,

But not yet fired, while your neck still

Holds the head, listening: just as when,

Bathing in the woods, a bather attends:

The tree-fringed pool mirrored in her face.

The Kneeling Female Faun, Auguste Rodin

‘The Kneeling Female Faun’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Before Summer Rain

Suddenly from all the parkland’s green,

Something, who know's what, is withdrawn:

You feel it coming nearer to the window,

Silently being. Urgently, close and loud,

A plover whistles from the wooded field,

So you’d almost think it a Saint Jerome:

So much of passion and solitude’s rising

Out of that single voice, that the rain

Must hear. The walls of the living room,

With all their pictures, move away from us.

They aren’t allowed to hear what we say.

And mirrored by the faded tapestries,

Is that uncertain light of afternoon,

Where you are still afraid, like a child.

Early Picture of My Father

In the eyes, dream: The brow’s in touch

With something far. Vast youthfulness

In the lips, unsmiling seductiveness,

And below the highly ornamented braid

And the slim-chested noble uniform,

The sabre’s basket-hilt and both the hands –

Suspended, calm, and clasped on nothing,

And now almost invisible: as if they,

Grasping the distance, were first to vanish.

And all the rest is so self-involved,

So quenched, as if we can’t understand it,

And deeply clouded, from its proper depth –

You, swiftly disappearing photograph,

In my more slowly disappearing hand.

Self-Portrait 1906

Certainty there, in the eyelids’ shape,

Of some ancient, long-ennobled race.

Childhood’s anxious blue still in the eyes,

And here and there, humility, not a fool’s

Yet a servant’s though, and feminine.

The mouth’s, a mouth, large and exact,

Unconvinced, but speaking out for

Justice. The brow’s without guile,

Gladly gazing down to quiet shadows.

This, its context’s barely suspected:

Neither in adversity nor success

To gather to precise penetration:

Yet serious reality’s being planned,

As if with scattered Things, from afar.

Tombs of the Courtesans

There they lie, in their long hair,

Brown faces sunk deep in themselves.

Eyes as if fronted by too vast a distance.

Skeletons, mouths, flowers. In the mouths

Gleaming teeth like travelling chessmen

Set out there in their ivory rows.

And flowers, yellow pearls, slender bones,

Hands and tunics, shrivelled fabric,

Over decayed hearts. But there,

Below those rings, those talismans,

And jewels blue as eyes (lovers’ gifts)

The silent crypt of sex remains,

Filled to its arch with flower-petals.

And more yellow pearls, rolled about –

Bowls of fired clay, whose curves

Affect their portraits, green shards

Of ointment-jars, smelling of flowers,

And forms of little gods: household altars.

Courtesan-heaven, with delighted gods.

Broken belts, and shallow scarabs,

Tiny figures with vast genitals,

A smiling mouth, dancers and runners,

Golden clasps like little hunting bows,

Chasing after bird and beast amulets:

Long needles, decorated cutlery,

And a potsherd with a reddened ground,

Where like a dark inscription on an arch,

A four-horse chariot team’s limbs stiffen.

And more flowers, pearls, rolled apart,

The gleaming sides of a little lyre,

And, between the veils like falls of mist,

As if it crept from the shoe’s chrysalis,

The delicate butterfly of the ankle.

So they lie filled with Things,

Costly Things, gems, utensils, toys,

Smashed trinkets (how much fell into them!)

And they darken like a river-bed.

They were riverbeds,

Over them, in brief swift waves

(Willing themselves on to further life)

The bodies of countless youngsters plunged,

And the streams of grown men roared.

And sometimes boys, breaking from the hills

Of childhood, flowed in timid falls,

And played with sunken Things,

Until the slope captured all feeling,

The Sirens, Auguste Rodin

‘The Sirens’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The National Gallery of Art

Then filled with clear shallow water

The whole breadth of the broad canal,

And stirred its whirlpools in the depths,

Mirroring the banks for the first time,

And far-off birdsong – while in the sky

The starry nights of a sweeter land

Opened on high, and would never close.

The Spirit Ariel

(On Reading Shakespeare’s Tempest)

Sometime, somewhere, you had set him free

With a jolt, with which we tear ourselves away

From youth, to greatness: from all consideration.

Then, he was willing: and since then he’s served,

Impatient, after every task, for freedom.

And half imperiously, half almost ashamed,

You put it to him you’ve still need of him,

For this and that, ah, and must tell him

How you helped him. And yet you feel yourself

That all that’s held back here, with him,

Is missing from the air. So tempting, sweet,

To let him go – and then, there’s no more magic:

Committing yourself to Fate like all the others,

Knowing that his weightless friendship,

Lacking strain, with no more obligation,

An excess of the space you breathe,

Works on, without thought, in the Element.

Dependent now, and no longer gifted

With shaping your dull mouth to the call

At which he dived. Powerless, ageing, poor,

Yet breathing him, like an incomprehensible

Far-flung fragrance, that makes the unseen

Complete. Smiling that you once could so

Summon him, used so easily to such

Great undertakings. Perhaps weeping too,

Remembering how he loved, and wished

To leave you, always both at once.

(Have I loosed him, already? This man, become

A duke again, terrifies me. How gently

He draws the wire through his head

And hangs himself beside the other

Figures, and brings forward his speech

And asks for mercy…What an epilogue,

Of consummate power. Throwing off, standing

Naked, with only one’s strength: ‘which is most faint’.)

Vast Night

I was often amazed by you, stood at the window begun

Yesterday, stood and was amazed. As yet the new

City was denied me, and the un-persuadable landscape

Darkened as though I were nothing. The nearest Things

Didn’t care if I understood them. And the street

Pressed on the lantern: I saw it was alien.

Over there – a room, sensed, clear in the lamplight.

Already I took part: they knew, closing the shutters.

Stood. And a child cried. I knew what the mothers

All around, in the houses, could do – and knew

As well the inconsolable root of all tears.

Or a voice sang out, and reached a little beyond

Expectation, or an old man below coughed

Full of reproach, as though his body was right

To oppose the gentler world. Then an hour struck –

But I began counting too late, and it fell past me –

Like a child, a stranger, finally allowed to play,

Who can’t catch the ball, no good at games

That the others all indulge in so deftly,

Stands there and stares – at what? Standing there, I

Suddenly grasped it was you surrounding me, playing,

Grown-up Night, and I wondered at you. Where towers

Raged, where, turned away from Fate, a city

Enclosed me, and un-guessed at mountains

Piled up against me, and strangeness, in narrowing

Circles, prowled around my random flickers

Of feeling – It was then, great one,

Unashamed yourself, that you knew me. Your breath

Passed over me. Your smile spreading across

Solemn distances, entered me.

Turn of the Road

(The path from inwardness to greatness
Passes through sacrifice. - Kassner.
)

For ages he gained it by watching.

Stars fell to their knees

Beneath his struggling gaze.

Or he watched, kneeling,

And his urgency’s fragrance

Made some god so weary

It smiled at him in its sleep.

Towers he looked at so

They were startled:

Building them again, suddenly in an instant!

But how often the landscape

Over-freighted by day,

Was brought to rest, at dusk, in his silent awareness.

Creatures trusted him, wandering

Into his open gaze, grazing,

And the caged lions

Stared as if at ungraspable freedom:

Birds flew bravely

Straight through it: flowers

Gazed endlessly into it

Immense, as in childhood.

And the rumour a watcher existed

Moved the less,

More doubtfully, visible,

Moved the women.

Suzon, Auguste Rodin

‘Suzon’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Watching for how long?

How long now, inwardly deprived,

Beseeching, from the depths of his look?

When he, one who waits, sat there in alien space:

The hotel’s distracted, un-noticing room,

Sullen, around him, and in the evaded mirror

The room again

And later, from the tormenting bed,

Again:

There in the air, considered,

Inconceivably considered

His perceivable heart

His through-the-painfully-buried body

Still perceivable heart

Considered and judged:

That it had no love.

(And refused him further communion)

For there’s a limit to gazing.

And the gazed-at world

Wants to blossom in love.

The work of vision is done,

Now do heart-work

On the forms in you that you’ve caught: since you’ve

Overpowered them: but still don’t know them.

Inner man, look on your inner woman,

The creature that’s won

From a thousand natures, the one

Gained just now, but not

Yet, truly, loved.

Heart-Slopes

Out on the heart-slopes. See, how tiny down there,

See, the last village of words, and higher,

But how little still, one last

Farmhouse of feeling. Do you know it?

Out on the heart-slopes. Stone ground

Under the hands. Something still

Grows here: on a dumb ledge,

An unknowing plant blooms, sings out.

And the knower? Ah, who began to know

And is silent now, out on the heart-slopes.

There fully conscious many a mountain

Creature, sure-footed, lingers,

Passes. And a huge bird securely

Circles the pure peak of denial – But

Insecure, here on the slopes of the heart…

Space

What birds fall through is not customary

Space, where forms increase for you.

(Out there, you’d be denied yourself

And you would disappear, without a trace.)

Space reaches out of us, and translates Things:

For a tree’s Being to succeed for you

Throw inner space around it, from that space

You know inside yourself, Surround it with constraint.

It has no boundaries. Not till it’s formed

By your renunciation is it ever truly ‘tree’.

Palm

Hand’s inwardness. Sole, that no longer walks

Except by feeling. That holds itself out

And in its mirror receives

Celestial roads, that wander

Along themselves:

That has learned to walk on water

When it scoops:

That travels from fountains

Transforming every path:

That steps into other hands,

Making a landscape

Of those that resemble it,

Wanders and enters them,

Filling them full of arrival.

Left Hand of Pierre de Wissant, Auguste Rodin

‘Left Hand of Pierre de Wissant’ - Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Always Again

Always again, though knowing love’s landscape,

And the tiny churchyard of plaintive names,

And the ravine where others end, where terrible

Silence reigns – always again we go out, together,

Under the ancient trees, always again we lie,

Among flowers, face to face with the sky.

Endure

Are not Nights formed out of the painful space

Of all the embraces a lover suddenly loses?

Eternal beloved, you who wish to endure: give

Yourself out like a fount, enclose yourself like laurel.

Waiting

Beside the sun-drenched roadway,

In the cleft tree’s hollow, a trough,

So long, whose dripping surface

Quickly renews, I’ll quench my

Thirst: the source and play of water

Penetrates right through my wrists.

Drinking would seem too much to me,

Too clear: But this gesture brings

Glittering water to consciousness.

So, if you came to me, I’d need, to sate me,

Only the lightest touch of my two hands

Over the fresh young curve of your shoulders,

Over the swelling of your breasts.

Praise

O tell me Poet what you do? – I praise.

But the deathly and the monstrous,

How do you accept them, bear them? – I praise.

But the nameless, the anonymous.

How, Poet, can you still invoke it? – I praise.

Under every costume, every mask of us,

What right have you to be true? – I praise.

Or that the calm and the impetuous

Should know you, as star and storm? – Because I praise.

Elegy

(To Marina Tsvetayeva)

Oh the losses in All, Marina, the falling stars!

We can’t add to it, wherever we hurl ourselves

To whatever star! All is already a part of the whole.

So even when we fall, the sacred sum’s not lessened.

Whoever’s given to feeling falls to the source and is healed

Is it all a game, equal exchange, displacement,

Nowhere a name, nowhere natural achievement?

Waves, Marina, we’re sea! Depths, Marina, we’re sky.

Earth, Marina, we’re earth, a thousand times Spring,

Like larks an outpouring of song hurls to the unseen.

We begin as joy: it already utterly exceeds us:

Suddenly our weight bows the song down to lament.

But then: lament? Isn’t that a younger, deeper joy.

Even the gods of the deep wish to be praised, Marina.

Gods are so innocent they wait for praise like children.

Praising, dear one, let’s be generous with praise.

Nothing is ours. We set our hands lightly on the necks

Of unbroken flowers. I saw it at Kom Ombo, on the Nile:

Thus, Marina, those kings offered up gifts they renounced.

As angels mark the doors of those to be saved,

We touch this and that, seemingly tender.

Ah how far off already, ah how careless, Marina,

Even in our innermost pretences. Signposts that’s all.

This gentle commerce, when it no longer suffers

One of our kind, seizes them in its grasp, takes

Its revenge and kills. That it has power to kill

Was clear to all from its delicacy and restraint

And from the strange force that alters us

From living ones to survivors. Non-being. Do you

Remember how often blind command dragged us

Through the icy ante-room of birth…Dragged: us? A body

With eyes under countless eyelids, refusing. Dragged

That heart, a whole race, set down in us. Dragged

To the goal of migratory birds the flock, the form of our

Imminent change. Lovers, Marina, weren’t, are not

Permitted to know utter destruction. Must be as if new.

Only their grave is old, only their grave remembers,

Darkens under the sobbing tree, remembers it all.

Only their grave sinks: they are supple as reeds:

What bends them too far, weaves them richly in garlands.

How they flower on May winds! From the midst of Ever,

Where you breathe and sense, the instant shuts them out.

(O how I comprehend you, feminine flower on the same

Undying stalk. How strongly I scatter myself

Into the night air that will soon reach you) The gods

Long ago learnt how to simulate halves. We, drawn into

That orbit, filled ourselves out like the orb of the moon.

Even in times of waning, even in weeks of change

Nothing could ever again help us to richness, but our

Own solitary passage over the unsleeping landscape.

The Dove

(To Erika, for the Festival of Praise)

Far from the dovecote the dove that remains outside,

Finding its home again one with the day and night,

Knows real serenity since all its deepest fright’s

Touched by relatedness throughout its furthest flight.

Those doves below, the ones utterly cared for,

Never-endangered ones cannot know tenderness:

Hearts that are won again are the most lived-for:

Free through renouncing joyful in skilfulness.

Over all Non-being arches the Everywhere!

Ah now the far-flung ball, thrown if we truly dare,

Doesn’t it fill our hands returning, otherwise:

Weighted by homecoming more the prize.


Index of First Lines