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


  1. This poem, these words are startling in ways, so telling and yet so enigmatic. I think this is one of my favorite Rilke poems ever, and paired with the Rodin sketch, perfection.

  2. PS: Saw "A Year With Rilke" highlighted over at One Stop Poetry just now, way to go!!!!!

  3. Nice Blog!Came here thro' one these are his translated versions ...Love his poems and good work Ruth and Lorenzo

  4. If Rilke had anything which allowed his gift to flourish, it was courage. This poem is an affirmation of his deepest damage. Rilke's original wound went down to his mother, who grieved so for the death of Rilke's older sister that she dressed him in girl's clothing til he was five. When she and his father separated, his mother only showed interest in him when the boy was ill or was reciting poetry or Scripture The singing in Rilke sprung from that place, but its flowering took a leap of faith that poetry itself could nurture, could become mother, could access the starry angel of the Madonna figure lost in his heart. As Rumi wrote, "Keep looking / at the bandaged place. That's where / the light enters you." Back to Rilke, his leap into pure poetry comes from the same source, with an added Yes: "Be inspired by the flame / where everything shines where it disappears" and then "Every happiness the child of a separation / it did not think it could survive." He had a very long way to travel to the Sonnets, where he could finally say (in Sonnet 2.13, Mitchell translation) "Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days / be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang." All the way from shattered childhood through shattered relationships through shattered Europe to the affirmations of the Elegies and Sonnets at Muzot. Said it -- fleetingly and forever --and then died three years later. Ding ding ding ... Brendan

    1. Wow what a beautiful reading. If they ever let me teach, I hope I'm half as beautiful as this. Thank you.

  5. I agree, Terresa, this one is a revelation. Those last two stanzas especially . . . daring us to become a fountain, to become wind! And the One Stop Poetry post is wonderful. Big thanks to Claudia! Thanks for coming over from there, Iwrite4u and for your nice comment!

    Brendan, you have contributed much to this blog in your comments. This one today is profoundly helpful to me. To create something so intensely beautiful as Rilke has done, out of the ashes of his life, moves me deeply. I love the line of Rumi you quote, keep looking at the wounded place. I posted that at the Rumi blog some time back and paired it with Van Gogh's self portrait with his bandaged ear. What you say about how his mother raised him clarifies a bit about his name too, which began as Reneé, I believe? And Lou Andreas-Salomé convinced him to change it to Rainer because it was too feminine, and yet that Maria remains. Truly, the quick summation you offer, of the shatterings he survived, and the prolific writings he left, like Persian carpets that increase in value with age and footfalls, is mind-blowing.

  6. I feel like a child just now between three larger children who don't know what power their words hold. Between Rilke's line, Every happiness is the child of a separation
    it did not think it could survive.
    And then to Brendan's, All the way from shattered childhood through shattered relationships through shattered Europe... And then to Ruth's, the shatterings he survived. I feel as though i am being rung like a bell. The bell is my place as a parent. My toll is my deed. My sound, my children's lives through/after/and through again/ divorce, lives lived new and altered.

    Some days it is difficult for me to see Rilke or anyone else, I suppose.

    Beautiful even still. And he does manage, doesn't he? And look at him now! Even still he rings.


  7. Rilke was a lousy husband -- as much as he loved the intimate inner spaces, personal intimacy was extremely difficult. He pretty well abandoned his wife Clara, a sculptor, and was on-again, off-again to their child Ruth. As one given wholly over to the vocation of poetry, nothing else got close. He was beloved by a legion of fainting ladies seduced by his lyric -- just about all of his friends were women -- but his heart belonged to Ma -- Ma Poetry, that is, the song which replaced his mother's voice when she abandoned him. His tenacity and ferocity in that devotion made him the poet he became, but way out of balance and at odds with everything else. - Brendan

  8. Thanks, Brendan. I wonder if there is aught from Clara to be read about her feelings in the relationship?

    I read recently in a thumbnail of an article that, alas, is no longer available online, and I don't recall who wrote it for The Atlantic, and the thing I remember from the google search was that the author wrote: Women threw themselves at Rilke not because of how he made them feel, but because of how they made him feel.

  9. i knew about his sad childhood - his name was René originally (the reborn) and he got it because his mother saw his dead sister reborn in him...sad story, lot of suffering he went trhough but think what i like most in his poems is the brokenness - he was a broken man in many ways but lines like these..

    What turns hard becomes rigid
    and is easily shattered.
    Pour yourself out like a fountain..

    speaks to me of someone who has learned to overcome some of the brokenness without denying it..

  10. Wow Ruth, that's a great clarification about Rilke's sway on women ... not how he made them feel, but how they made him feel. His devotion to Love and Beauty and Woman must have sounded like the voice of god. At least in words ... And I've never found anything in my studies quoting Clara, though the biographers all say she was a non-traditional bohemian artist and understood Rilke's difficulties. Still, as a wife and mother she suffered for it. - Brendan

  11. Claudia, learning to overcome some of the brokenness without denying it . . . what more can be asked of a person, and what better response? Beautifully stated. To be the deeply defeated by ever greater things . . . There is a lot of mystery and ambiguity, I guess, room for interpretation, and criticism too, and rightly so. Does he give himself too much freedom?

    Brendan, ah, these choices people make. It's so hard to do the perspective taking from here. What would it be like to sit with them? To hear them talk, and to hear their words in the context of daily life? We scour his words for meaning within ourselves, and we also filter them through what we know of his lifestyle. Our assessments will be faulty at best, and yet, are we wrong to be critical? I think of Rodin also, and the story of his mistress who sculpted the couple in the last post. Such a terribly sad story hers is! How much was his fault? How can we know?

  12. I think this is one of my favorites, as well. Beautiful!

  13. I takeRilke's poems for what it expresses of his insights into the human situation. I think it diminishes his poetryif one starts to read his sad past into the wpirit that lifts preciselyhm out of his past that would have defeated an ordinary man .


"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!