March 31, 2011

The Olive Grove (1)

 Olive Grove, by Vincent van Gogh

He went out under the grey leaves,
all grey and indistinct, this olive grove,
and buried his dusty face
in the dust of his hot hands.

It has come to this. Is this how it ends?
Must I continue when I'm going blind?
Why do you want me to say you exist
when I no longer find you myself?

I cannot find you any more. Not within me.
Not in others. Not in these stones.
I find you no longer. I am alone.

I am alone with everyone's sorrow,
the sorrow I tried to relieve through you,
you who do not exist. O unspeakable shame.
Later they would say an angel came.

New Poems

March 30, 2011

The Last Supper

Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background

They are assembled around him, troubled and confused.
He seems withdrawn,
as if, strangely, he were flowing past
those to whom he had belonged.
The old aloneness comes over him.
It had prepared him for his deep work.
Now once again he will go out to the olive groves.
Now those who love him will flee from him.

He had bid them come to this last meal.
Their hands on the bread
tremble now at the words he speaks,
tremble in sudden silence
as a forest does when a gun is fired.
They long to leave, and they will.
But they will find him everywhere.

Book of Images

March 29, 2011

Dread and Bliss

Sorrow, 1882, by Auguste Rodin
Art Institute, Chicago

The person who has not, in a moment of firm resolve, accepted—yes, even rejoiced in—what has struck him with terror—he has never taken possession of the full, ineffable power of our existence. He withdraws to the edge; when things play out, he will be neither alive nor dead.

To discover the unity of dread and bliss, these two faces of the same divinity (indeed, they reveal themselves as a single face that presents itself differently according to the way in which we see it): that is the essential meaning and theme of both my books (The Sonnets to Orpheus and The Duino Elegies).

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
April 12, 1923

March 28, 2011

Life's Other Half

Rilke, artist unknown

I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life's other half) in our love. This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love, which cannot be stopped or constricted. It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and, ultimately, our enemy.

It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself. . . .
What do we know of it?

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
Epiphany, 1923

March 27, 2011


Marseille, 1906

And you wait. You wait for the one thing
that will change your life,
make it more than it is—
something wonderful, exceptional,
stones awakening, depths opening to you.

In the dusky bookstalls
old books glimmer gold and brown.
You think of lands you journeyed through,
of paintings and a dress once worn
by a woman you never found again.

And suddenly you know: that was enough.
You rise and there appears before you
in all its longings and hesitations
the shape of what you lived.

Book of Images

March 26, 2011

Annunciation (2)

 Minerva, by Auguste Rodin

(The angel speaks)

I stretched my wings wide
and became incredibly vast.
Now your narrow dwelling
overflows with my robes.
Yet you are alone as never before,
and barely look at me.
I could be just a breeze in the grove.
You, though, are the tree.

Never was there such longing,
so great and so uncertain.
Maybe something is soon to occur
that has come to you in dreams.
I greet you, for my soul sees now
that you have ripened and are ready.
You are a high and awesome gate
and soon you will open.
You are the ear my song is seeking,
the forest in which my word is lost.

So I came and made real
what you dared so long to dream.
God looked right at me, it was blinding . . .

You, though, are the tree.

Book of Images

March 25, 2011

Annunciation (1)

 Cambodian Dancer

(The angel speaks)

It's not that you are closer to God than we;
We are all far from God.
But your hands seem to me
so wonderfully blessed,
made ready as no other woman's.
They are almost radiant.
I am the day, I am the dew.
You, though, are the tree.

I am tired now, I have traveled a long way.
Forgive me, but I have forgotten
what He, enthroned in gold like the sun,
wanted me to tell you, quiet one.
All that space made me dizzy,
but I am just the beginning.
You, though, are the tree.

Book of Images

March 24, 2011


 Man Stooping with Stick or Spade

Any angel is frightening.
Yet, because I know of you,
I invoke you in spite of myself,
you lethal birds of the soul.

Fated to be happy from the beginning of time,
creation's spoiled immortal darlings,
summits of the cosmos shining at dawn,
pollen from heavenly blossoms, limbs of light,
hallways, stairs, thrones carved from existence,
shields of ecstasy, shrines for delight—
and suddenly, each one, mirror:
where our own evanescent beauty
is gathered into an enduring countenance.

From the Second Duino Elegy

March 23, 2011

What Will You Do, God?

 Woman as Vase
by Auguste Rodin

What will you do, God, when I die?

I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

Without me what house
where intimate words await you?
I, velvet sandal that falls from your foot.
I, cloak dropping from your shoulder.
What will you do, God? It troubles me.

From The Book of Hours I, 36

March 22, 2011

Since I've Learned to Be Silent

 L'Estaque, by Paul Cézanne

Since I've learned to be silent, everything has come so much closer to me. I am thinking of a summer on the Baltic when I was a child: how talkative I was to sea and forest; how, filled with an unaccustomed exuberance, I tried to leap over all limits with the hasty excitement of my words. And how, as I had to take my leave on a morning in September, I saw that we never give utterance to what is final and most blessed, and that all my rhapsodic Table d'hote conversations did not approach either my inchoate feelings or the ocean's eternal self-revelation.

Early Journals

March 21, 2011


 Child with an Orange, by Vincent van Gogh

Spring! And Earth is like a child
who has learned many poems by heart.
For the trouble of that long learning
she wins the prize.

Her teacher was strict. We loved the white
of the old man's beard. Now we can ask her
the many names of green, of blue,
and she knows them, she knows them!

Earth, school is out now. You're free
to play with the children. We'll catch you,
joyous Earth. The happiest will catch you!

All that the teacher taught her—the many thoughts
pressed now into roots and long
tough stems: she sings! She sings!

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 21

March 20, 2011

Coming to Be

 Nude Study

From infinite longings
finite deeds arise...

But in these dancing tears,
what is often withheld can be found:
our strength.

Book of Images

March 19, 2011

Like a Web

Rainer Maria Rilke
photographer unknown

When I lean over the chasm of myself—
it seems
my God is dark
and like a web: a hundred roots
silently drinking.

This is the ferment I grow out of.

From the Book of Hours I, 3

March 18, 2011

The Interior Castle

by Pierre Choumoff

Nowhere, Beloved, will the world exist but within us.
Our lives are constant transformations. The external
grows ever smaller. Where a solid house once stood,
now a mental image takes its place,
almost as if it were all in the imagination.
Our era has created vast reservoirs of power,
as formless as the currents of energy they transmit.
Temples are no longer known. In our hearts
these can be secretly saved. Where one survives—
a Thing once prayed to, worshipped, knelt before—
its true nature seems already to have passed
into the Invisible. Many no longer take it for real,
and do not seize the chance to build it
inwardly, and yet more vividly, with all its pillars and statues.

From the Seventh Duino Elegy

March 17, 2011

The Pieces of My Shame

Lac d'Annecy, by Paul Cézanne

In alleyways I sweep myself up
out of garbage and broken glass.
With my half-mouth I stammer you,
who are eternal in your symmetry.
I lift to you my half-hands
in wordless beseeching, that I may find again
the eyes with which I once beheld you.

I am a city by the sea
sinking into a toxic tide.
I am stranger to myself, as though someone unknown
had poisoned my mother as she carried me.

It's here in all the pieces of my shame
that now I find myself again.

From the Book of Hours II, 2

March 16, 2011

Love the Solitude

Madame Cézanne au fauteuil jaune

Much that may one day be possible can already be prepared by the solitary individual, and built with his own hands which make fewer mistakes. Therefore love your solitude and bear the pain of it without self-pity. The distance you feel from those around you should trouble you no more than your distance from the farthest stars. Be glad that you are growing, and realize that you cannot take anyone with you; be gentle with those who stay behind. Be confident and calm before them, and don't torment them with your doubts or distress them with your ambitions which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Find in a true and simple way what you have in common with them, which does not need to change when you yourself change and change again. When you see them, love life in a form that is not your own, and be kind to all the people who are afraid of their aloneness.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

March 15, 2011

In the Madhouse

Doctor Gachet's Garden in Auvers

They are quiet now. The walls
inside their minds have fallen.
The hours of understanding
draw near and soon will pass.

Sometimes at night, watching at the window,
it is suddenly all right.
What their hands touch is solid,
and their hearts lift as if in prayer.
Their eyes gaze, relieved,

upon the garden
at last undeformed, and safely
contained within its square,
which in contrast to the uneasy world
keeps being itself and never gets lost.

New Poems

March 14, 2011

Praise the World

Half Figure of an Angel (after Rembrandt)

Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the universe he inhabits you are a novice.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
Tell him of things. He will stand still in astonishment,
the way you stood by the ropemaker in Rome
or beside the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even a lament takes pure form,
serves as a thing, dies as a thing,
while a violin, blessing it, fades.

And the things, even as they pass,
understand that we praise them.
Transient, they are trusting us
to save them—us, the most transient of all.
As if they wanted in our invisible hearts
to be transformed
into—oh, endlessly—into us.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy

March 13, 2011

I Opened Myself

Terrace of a Cafe on Montmartre (La Guingette)

I opened myself too wide. I forgot
there's more outside than things and animals
at ease with themselves, whose eyes reflect
the wholeness of their lives.
I forgot my habit of grasping every look
that fell on me: looks, opinions, scrutiny.

Uncollected Poems

March 12, 2011

The Loner

 Plaster Sculpture of Balzac by Rodin
photographed in moonlight
by Edward Steichen

Like one who has traveled distant oceans
am I among those who are forever at home.
The crowded days are spread across their tables,
but to me the far-off holds more life.

Behind my face stretches a world
no more lived in, perhaps, than the moon.
But the others leave no feeling alone
and all their words are inhabited.

The things I brought back with me
seem strange here and out of place.
In their own land they moved like animals,
but here they hold their breath in shame.

Book of Images

March 11, 2011


The Brothel, by Vincent van Gogh

Loneliness is like the rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening
and from distant plains moves into sky
where it ever belongs.
And from the sky it falls upon us in the city.

It rains here below in the twilight hours
when alleyways wind toward morning
and when lovers, finding nothing,
leave the failure of each other's arms,
and when two who loathe each other
must share the same bed:

Then loneliness flows with the rivers...

Book of Images

March 10, 2011

The Prisoner (II)

The Burghers of Calais, by Auguste Rodin
Read the story of this sculpture here

Just imagine: what for you now is sky and wind,
air to breathe and light to see,
becomes stone right up to the little space
made by my heart and hands.

And what you now call tomorrow and
soon and next year and after that—
becomes an open wound, full of pus.
It festers and never drains.

And what has been
becomes a madness.
It rages and mocks within you,
twisting your mouth with crazed laughter.

And what had been God
becomes your jailer
and blocks with his filthy eye
your last escape.

And still you live.

New Poems

March 9, 2011

The Prisoner (I)

 "The Burghers of Calais," detail of hands

My hand has one gesture left:
to push things away.
From the rock dampness drips
on old stones.

This dripping is all I can hear.
My heart keeps pace
with the drops falling
and sinks away with them.

If the drops fall faster
an animal might come to drink.
Somewhere it is brighter than this—
but what do we know.

New Poems

March 8, 2011

A New Clarity

 The Age of Gold

Allow your judgments their own undisturbed development, which, like any unfolding, must come from within and can by nothing be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birth. To allow each impression and each embryo of a feeling to complete itself in the dark, in the unsayable, the not-knowing, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and humbly and patiently to await the dawning of a new clarity: that alone is the way of the artist—in understanding as in creating.

Viareggio, April 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

March 7, 2011

As the Century Ends

 Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé
with poet Spiridon Drozin, in Russia 1900

I'm living just as the century ends.

A great leaf, that God and you and I
have covered with writing
turns now, overhead, in strange hands.
We feel the sweep of it like a wind.

We see the brightness of a new page
where everything yet can happen.

Unmoved by us, the fates take its measure
and look at one another, saying nothing.

The Book of Hours I, 8

March 6, 2011

Where I Am Going

Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Pears and Leaves

Again the murmur of my own deep life grows stronger,
flowing along wider shores.
Things grow ever more related to me,
and I see farther into their forms.
I become more trustful of the nameless.
My mind, like a bird,
rises from the oak tree into the wind,
and my heart sinks through the pond's reflected day
to where the fishes move.

Book of Images

March 5, 2011

In Our Own Way

Blacksmith Shop, by Vincent van Gogh

Ever turned toward what we create, we see in it
only reflections of the Open, darkened by us.
Except when an animal silently looks us through and through.
This is our fate: to stand
in our own way. Forever
in the way.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy

March 4, 2011

To Love

Hands, by Auguste Rodin

To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen, to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth.

Rome, May 14, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

March 3, 2011

Not Prisoners

The Bedroom, by Vincent van Gogh

If we imagine our being as a room of any size, it seems that most of us know only a single corner of that room, a spot by the window, a narrow strip on which we keep walking back and forth. That gives a kind of security. But isn't insecurity with all its dangers so much more human?

We are not prisoners of that room.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

March 2, 2011

To the Beloved

Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.

The Book of Hours II, 7

March 1, 2011


 Sketch with Color, by Auguste Rodin

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of a body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 12