January 30, 2011


No. Of my heart I will make a tower
and stand on its very edge,
where nothing else exists—just once again pain
and what cannot be said, and once again world.

Once again in all that vastness
now dark, now light again, the single thing I am,
one final face confronting
what can never be appeased.

That ultimate face, enduring as stone,
at one with its gravity,
drawn by distances that could dissolve it
into some promise of the sacred.

New Poems


  1. I haven't commented on this notion of aloneness for Rilke because mostly, I can not understand it, not in the measure that he lived it. Or perhaps I can understand only a corner of it from a life lived personally and I do not want to admit to understanding any of it. To marry and live apart as he did, to love and yet stay apart, and to live exposed and yet alone and vulnerable to god, as though to feel and know anything one must shake the soul free of encumbrances and lay it to the rock for truth to pick at its wound - it is all so very much.

    Recently I came across a site which promotes women and art and one woman was featured for engaging in a fifteen year project, a self photo a day, to explore her personal identity through the body. She engaged in this not knowing, not seeing the end, where it would be something shared in and celebrated. Fifteen years. A lifetime. I think of these commitments to art and I can simply not get my mind around it. And so I have to sit with Rilke's words and be a good girl, and be quiet.


  2. Having read George's post this morning of Emerson's words, about relying on oneself, and the (Needleman) quote that Emerson's writings awakened the . . . true metaphysical nobility of man, and then attending to Rilke's lines here, I am feeling that we just aren't "educated" about the self in our societies in healthy ways, and so I don't know what to do with much of this either, Erin. It takes a lot of will to face new ways of thinking of being alone in the world. Of thinking for myself. Especially at times of pain, old systems of personal coping rise to the surface.

    What to do with Rilke's words here? They are quite mysterious to me. I get to the last lines, and I wonder what the gravitational pull is, what promise, and what sacred, and what can't be appeased? Is his tower the same as my same longing for emptiness, in an open, flat field? For what lies beneath everything, and beyond, and out of reach?

  3. From my perspective, what Rilke does not say in this poem is as important as what he does say. The operative word for me is the first word, "no." No, he will not shrink from the fear and pain that are often inevitable when one makes a tower of the heart and stands on its edge. No, he will not run from the pain, the world, and the vastness that he must encounter "once again" (repeated three times) in responding to the gravitational pull of the "ultimate face" which "can never be appeased." As I see it, Rilke is pulled like many of us to some vague, ill-defined "promise of the sacred," a promise that recedes further into the distance with each of our steps in its direction.

  4. I agree with George about that emphatic "No", which seems to me to intimate that to do otherwise is impossible to conceive.

    Rilke's sense of himself as that "single thing I am" stands in great contrast to "all that vastness/now dark, now light", before "That ultimate face, enduring as stone", enduring as we do not.

  5. The face, I think, is actually Rilke's (the original German is 'ein letztes, sehnendes Gesicht' - 'a final, yearning face') which 'in das Nie-zu-Stillende verstossen' (is pushed out into that which can never be still, the tumult, the whirlpool). It's endured the inexplicable nature of the world with all its pain and has become hardened - and the 'distances' ('die Weiten') are at the same time annihilating it (the face) and compelling it to become more holy.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!