Poem-a-Day Friday: Rainer Marie Rilke

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(My New Year’s resolution was to read one poem a day. Every Friday, I share one of those poems with you.)

This week I read Rainer Marie Rilke with my writer’s group and discussed one of his poems from The Book of Hours (which I should really read). All that discussing Rilke got me a mood to read back through his selected poems. I don’t remember reading this poem when I read him in grad school. But, this time around, it struck me.

Rilke, who wrote at the turn of the 20th century, was Austrian and wrote in German. This is a translation. Once again, I’m blown away that such emotion can be conveyed in poem when it’s not even in its original language. His images are something special.

[You who never arrived]

by Rainer Maria Rilke, trans by Stephen Mitchell

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 un-
suspected 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,–
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, separate, in the evening…

  • caq

    I haven’t read this in awhile, though I am going to pick up my Rilke from the ex’s this morning. Those last lines slay me. In a great way. Thank you!

  • Haley

    This is so good that I’m having trouble deciding if I’ll write all the more passionately for having read it, or if I can never write again because I’ll never be anywhere close to him.


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