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Best Famous Rainer Maria Rilke Poems

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Written by Rainer Maria Rilke | Create an image from this poem

The Gazelle

Gazella Dorcas


Enchanted thing: how can two chosen words
ever attain the harmony of pure rhyme
that pulses through you as your body stirs?
Out of your forehead branch and lyre climb

and all your features pass in simile through
the songs of love whose words as light as rose-
petals rest on the face of someone who
has put his book away and shut his eyes:

to see you: tensed as if each leg were a gun
loaded with leaps but not fired while your neck
holds your head still listening: as when

while swimming in some isolated place
a girl hears leaves rustle and turns to look:
the forest pool reflected in her face.
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke | Create an image from this poem

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.
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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.
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke | Create an image from this poem

Sunset

 Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs-- leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke | Create an image from this poem

Autumn Day

 Four Translations

Lord: it is time.
The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials and let loose the wind in the fields.
Bid the last fruits to be full; give them another two more southerly days, press them to ripeness, and chase the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time, will stay up, read, write long letters, and wander the avenues, up and down, restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.
Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, "The Essential Rilke" (Ecco) Lord, it is time.
The summer was too long.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now, and through the meadow let the winds throng.
Ask the last fruits to ripen on the vine; give them further two more summer days to bring about perfection and to raise the final sweetness in the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will establish none, whoever lives alone now will live on long alone, will waken, read, and write long letters, wander up and down the barren paths the parks expose when the leaves are blown.
Translated by William Gass, "Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problem of Translation" (Knopf) Lord: it is time.
The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows, and on the meadows let the wind go free.
Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine; grant them a few more warm transparent days, urge them on to fulfillment then, and press the final sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone, will sit, read, write long letters through the evening, and wander the boulevards, up and down, restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell, "The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke" (Random House) Lord, it is time now, for the summer has gone on and gone on.
Lay your shadow along the sun- dials and in the field let the great wind blow free.
Command the last fruit be ripe: let it bow down the vine -- with perhaps two sun-warm days more to force the last sweetness in the heavy wine.
He who has no home will not build one now.
He who is alone will stay long alone, will wake up, read, write long letters, and walk in the streets, walk by in the streets when the leaves blow.
Translated by John Logan, "Homage to Rainer Maria Rilke," (BOA Editions) Original German Herbsttag Herr: es ist Zeit.
Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren, und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Fruchten voll zu sein; gieb innen noch zwei sudlichere Tage, drange sie zur Vollendung hin und jage die letzte Susse in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben, wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben und wird in den Alleen hin und her unruhig wandern, wenn die Blatter treiben.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, Sept.
21, 1902
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Self-Portrait

1906


The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows' heavy arches.
In the mild blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child and here and there humility-not a fool's but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight composed yet not willing to speak out when necessary.
The forehead still na?ve most comfortable in shadows looking down.
This as a whole just hazily foreseen- never in any joy of suffering collected for a firm accomplishment; and yet as though from far off with scattered Things a serious true work were being planned.
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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.
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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.
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DUINO ELEGIES

The First Elegy


Who if I cried out would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me 
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
I that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we still are just able to endure and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note Of my dark sobbing.
Ah whom can we ever turn to in our need? Not angels not humans and already the knowing animals are aware that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.
Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside which every day we can take into our vision; there remains for us yesterday's street and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at out faces.
Whom would it not remain for-that longed-after mildly disillusioning presence which the solitary heart so painfully meets.
Is it any less difficult for lovers? But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don't you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms Into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.
Yes-the springtime needed you.
Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past or as you walked under an open window a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission.
But could you accomplish it? Weren't you always Distracted by expectation as if every event announced a beloved? (Where can you find a place to keep her with all the huge strange thoughts inside you going and coming and often staying all night.
) But when you feel longing sing of women in love; for their famous passion is still not immortal.
Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them almost) who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising; remember: the hero lives on; even his downfall was merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature spent and exhausted takes lovers back into herself as if there were not enough strength to create them a second time.
Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl deserted by her beloved might be inspired by that fierce example of soaring objectless love and might say to herself Perhaps I can be like her ? Shouldn't this most ancient suffering finally grow more fruitful for us? Isn't it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and quivering endured: as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension so that gathered in the snap of release it can be more than itself.
For there is no place where we can remain.
Voices.
Voices.
Listen my heart as only Saints have listened: until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground; yet they kept on impossibly kneeling and didn't notice at all: so complete was their listening.
Not that you could endure God's voice-far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn't their fate whenever you stepped into a church In Naples or Rome quietly come to address you? Or high up some eulogy entrusted you with a mission as last year on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance of injustice about their death-which at times slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.
Of course it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer to give up customs one barely had time to learn not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future; no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave even one's own first name behind forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one's desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.
-Though the living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don't know whether it is the living they are moving among or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it through both realms forever and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.
In the end those who were carried off early no longer need us: they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys as gently as children outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers.
But we who do need such great mysteries we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit's growth-: could we exist without them? Is the legend meaningless that tells how in the lament for Linus the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness; and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god had suddenly left forever the Void felt for the first time that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.
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Night (O you whose countenance)

 Night.
O you whose countenance, dissolved in deepness, hovers above my face.
You who are the heaviest counterweight to my astounding contemplation.
Night, that trembles as reflected in my eyes, but in itself strong; inexhaustible creation, dominant, enduring beyond the earth's endurance; Night, full of newly created stars that leave trails of fire streaming from their seams as they soar in inaudible adventure through interstellar space: how, overshadowed by your all-embracing vastness, I appear minute!--- Yet, being one with the ever more darkening earth, I dare to be in you.
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Spanish Dancer

As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.
And all at once it is completely fire.
One upward glance and she ignites her hair and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.
And then: as if the fire were too tight around her body, she takes and flings it out haughtily, with an imperious gesture, and watches: it lies raging on the floor, still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die - Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet exultant smile, she looks up finally and stamps it out with powerful small feet.
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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.
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Duino Elegies: The Fourth Elegy

 O trees of life, oh, what when winter comes?
We are not of one mind.
Are not like birds in unison migrating.
And overtaken, overdue, we thrust ourselves into the wind and fall to earth into indifferent ponds.
Blossoming and withering we comprehend as one.
And somewhere lions roam, quite unaware, in their magnificence, of any weaknesss.
But we, while wholly concentrating on one thing, already feel the pressure of another.
Hatred is our first response.
And lovers, are they not forever invading one another's boundaries? -although they promised space, hunting and homeland.
Then, for a sketch drawn at a moment's impulse, a ground of contrast is prepared, painfully, so that we may see.
For they are most exact with us.
We do not know the contours of our feelings.
We only know what shapes them from the outside.
Who has not sat, afraid, before his own heart's curtain? It lifted and displayed the scenery of departure.
Easy to understand.
The well-known garden swaying just a little.
Then came the dancer.
Not he! Enough! However lightly he pretends to move: he is just disguised, costumed, an ordinary man who enters through the kitchen when coming home.
I will not have these half-filled human masks; better the puppet.
It at least is full.
I will endure this well-stuffed doll, the wire, the face that is nothing but appearance.
Here out front I wait.
Even if the lights go down and I am told: "There's nothing more to come," -even if the grayish drafts of emptiness come drifting down from the deserted stage -even if not one of my now silent forebears sist beside me any longer, not a woman, not even a boy- he with the brown and squinting eyes-: I'll still remain.
For one can always watch.
Am I not right? You, to whom life would taste so bitter, Father, after you - for my sake - slipped of mine, that first muddy infusion of my necessity.
You kept on tasting, Father, as I kept on growing, troubled by the aftertaste of my so strange a future as you kept searching my unfocused gaze -you who, so often since you died, have been afraid for my well-being, within my deepest hope, relinquishing that calmness, the realms of equanimity such as the dead possess for my so small fate -Am I not right? And you, my parents, am I not right? You who loved me for that small beginning of my love for you from which I always shyly turned away, because the distance in your features grew, changed, even while I loved it, into cosmic space where you no longer were.
.
.
: and when I feel inclined to wait before the puppet stage, no, rather to stare at is so intensely that in the end to counter-balance my searching gaze, an angel has to come as an actor, and begin manipulating the lifeless bodies of the puppets to perform.
Angel and puppet! Now at last there is a play! Then what we seperate can come together by our very presence.
And only then the entire cycle of our own life-seasons is revealed and set in motion.
Above, beyond us, the angel plays.
Look: must not the dying notice how unreal, how full of pretense is all that we accomplish here, where nothing is to be itself.
O hours of childhood, when behind each shape more that the past lay hidden, when that which lay before us was not the future.
We grew, of course, and sometimes were impatient in growing up, half for the sake of pleasing those with nothing left but their own grown-upness.
Yet, when alone, we entertained ourselves with what alone endures, we would stand there in the infinite space that spans the world and toys, upon a place, which from the first beginnniing had been prepared to serve a pure event.
Who shows a child just as it stands? Who places him within his constellation, with the measuring-rod of distance in his hand.
Who makes his death from gray bread that grows hard, -or leaves it there inside his rounded mouth, jagged as the core of a sweet apple?.
.
.
.
.
.
.
The minds of murderers are easily comprehended.
But this: to contain death, the whole of death, even before life has begun, to hold it all so gently within oneself, and not be angry: that is indescribable.
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke | Create an image from this poem

On Hearing Of A Death

 We lack all knowledge of this parting.
Death does not deal with us.
We have no reason to show death admiration, love or hate; his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us a false impression.
The world's stage is still filled with roles which we play.
While we worry that our performances may not please, death also performs, although to no applause.
But as you left us, there broke upon this stage a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight opening through which you dissapeared: green, evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.
We keep on playiing, still anxious, our difficult roles declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures as required.
But your presence so suddenly removed from our midst and from our play, at times overcomes us like a sense of that other reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed and play our actual lives instead of the performance, forgetting altogehter the applause.
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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.