May 7, 2011


Lovers' Hands, by Auguste Rodin

Lovers, you who are for a while
sufficient to each other,
help me understand who we are.
You hold each other. Have you proof?
See, my hands hold each other too.
I put my used-up face in them.
It helps me feel known.
Just from that, can we believe we endure?
You however, who increase
through each other's delight,
you who ripen in each other's hands
like grapes in a vintage year:
I'm asking you
who we are.

You touch one another so reverently;
as though your caresses
could keep each place they cover
from disappearing. As though, underneath, you could sense
that which will always exist.
So, as you embrace, you promise each other eternity.

From the Second Duino Elegy


  1. After a series of lines such as these, where rich, tender images fill me with almost an agony of beauty, in this reverent hush, I only wish to say . . . ahhh.

    But I will say a bit more.

    I love how, in his inimitable way, he offers the truth of the increase . . . the recognition of eternity, the expanse into everything, the open window to all that has been and all that can be under that skin of the other, the shudder of recognition of oneself while hoping for more, always more. But we know we can never contain all of what is there, and so, we keep longing, and embracing, increasing and being increased.

    1. I also love the limitations and growth. For me, Tha magic of Rilke is the placea where he finds these things.

  2. Yes, Ruth, I have some difficulty getting beyond the "aaahhhh". The image of Rodin's sculpture goes so marvelously well here. The woman's hand, cupped upward toward heaven: is she offering or receiving? Both, I would like to think. And the man's hand seems to be both caressing and supporting hers.

    There is something remarkable in the contrast Rilke draws between the interlocking and touching hands of lovers and his own hands, which he uses to hold his "used-up face", to help him "feel known"; but, he asks, rhetorically, is that enough for us to "believe we endure". On the other hand(no pun intended, but gleefully noted), endurance and eternity, or their continual, self-renewing promise, seem available only through a lover. The lovers ripen in each other's hands, like "grapes in a vintage year". Indeed, the grapes disappear, they are used up, but who knows what banquets will be irrigated by their wine or when?

  3. hi ruth, i admire that rilke dances with such grace on the burning dancefloor of any relationship: how is it that there are surface experiencings of love that are common-a-penny, and then some experiencings that suggest some sort of intuitive or deeper connection with a knowledge of eternity?
    "You hold each other. Have you proof?" is this relationship a matter of convenience, a matter of comfort like the wallpaper that stays on the wall for far too long, or is there more substance to it and and how do you know?
    "You however, who increase through each other's delight". is there a deeper mapping of connection that underwrites the apparent happiness of some? my own sense of relationship is that it isn't entirely about itself, regardless. it is a doorway, a metaphor, an opportunity to connect with the unconditional.

  4. Oh, I read this passage last night/early this morning and had my breath knocked away. And of course had to go and read the entire Elegy--this amazing piece on the beauty (such beauty!) and the terror of Love, in which "our own heart always exceeds us."

    But. Rilke's lovers. To feel that. It is overwhelming. Can we endure? If we have this, as he describes it, then yes. And with him I ask who we are. Who are we?

  5. How is it that lovers can prove eternity by touching each other where the poet -- or any solitary -- cannot, merely by engaging the same gesture with one's self? Only in the shared touch come the ripening, a ripening which is forbid to solitude: for we are communal beings, our boundaries become prisons of self without otherness, without yearning, without another recognition of us. Thus Eve was given to Adam, that he may come to know God.

    We do not exist without that recognition; our desire does not exist unless we see it hot in another's eyes. Nor can we see God except as he she it is pouring out of another's eyes, another's spirit. Lorenzo, you nailed it here: "Indeed, the grapes disappear, they are used up, but who knows what banquets will be irrigated by their wine or when?" And what life can there be without supping til the juice runs down our lips? - Brendan

  6. I see this question posed twice and wonder of his thoughts.
    he understands us through commonality, but his second querry seems to be to a love more God like that knows better than our understanding.
    kinda like looking at a cheap velvet of elvis or poker playing dogs and knowing all it can say to us, then looking over to Van Gogh and knowing this can define us beyond what we know if it could speak to us.


"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!