June 5, 2011


Sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz. Photo: Jon Bronberg
When it happens that I lose you,
will you find that you can sleep
without my whispering over you
like the rustling linden tree?

Without my lying awake beside you
and letting my words
fall upon your breast, your limbs,
your mouth, like petals of a rose?

Without my letting you be cradled
alone with what is yours,
like a garden abundant
with lavender and lemon balm.

New Poems
Full view of Kollwitz's Mother with her Dead Son. Photo: Andre K.
at the Neue Wache Memorial for Victims of War and Tyranny in Berlin

Photo: Wolfgang Brüßler
Click on the images to enlarge. To see a remarkable gallery of images of this immensely powerful memorial, click here for the first image and then cycle through the entire "fotocommunity.com" collection of photos by clicking on "Next" or on the photos themselves (there are 98 photos). For more on the Neue Wache Memorial go here.


  1. Kollowitz lost not just her son but also a grandson. The Nazi's did not allow her art to be shown. Such a passionate artist. Such a wonderful and evocative poem. Thank you!

  2. When Lorenzo first shared Hollwitz, this sculpture, and the memorial at Neue Wache, as a possibility to link with this post, I did not realize that Kollwitz died in 1945, and that she had lost her son in WWI. Patricia says she also lost her grandson. I have only viewed the first 3 photos at the gallery Lorenzo linked, because my Internet connection is slow this morning, but I’ll get to each of them. They show the depth and breadth of that space more vividly than photos usually can.

    The power of the sculpture, especially in its context of the artist (do read about her passion at the link) and the memorial to soldiers of war in a country that suffers that terrible ignominy of unforgivable deeds, conjures for me all the dread and darkness that can rob a parent of her child, of any person of their beloved. This brick platform and mother beyond weeping, clutching him, are like a black and lightless stage where the light of Rilke’s poem, hushed, speaks from out of the darkness, with the rustle of leaves. If we give Rilke a mother’s voice, as suggested by this pairing, how tenderly she asks the only question worth asking. Not Why were you taken from me? But, How will you fare without my watching over you? Even to the point, in the last stanza, of the watching over from the next room (or state, city, battlefield, or continent) protecting his solitude, watching him grow and develop from afar where he is fragrant still in her nostrils.

  3. i read the poem first as though written for a lover. reading it again as a mother it strikes me to my knees. i am that rustling linden tree. do they hear me? or do i fade into the wind and the storms, the sound of the new day?

    the memorial is brilliant. i can't help but get a feeling though as i click through the photos, that Kollwitz's piece is alive. in the elements themselves! i love this! and what fools we are to think we can house it, that which Kollwitz has first recognized and then created. each photograph reveals the statue in a new state and when there are people viewing her and her son it is as though she turns away or inward, shielding him, cradling love and grief. we can never get any closer to this statue, no matter how clever we are. i think we can never get closer to what Kollwitz wishes to express, no matter who we are unless we have fully experienced such loss. even Kollwitz's hands must have been distant in the making. unless of course her heart and soul were inside the stone and if perhaps it was her own pain being rendered. (sorry, didn't read ruth's commentary noting history until after i responded.) my mind goes all over this piece and the photographs exhibited. i'm grateful. grateful and sad.


  4. wonderful imagery in the poem. the carving is heartbreaking.

  5. Like Erin I read it like a lover, there is so much more heartache, haunting from the view of a mother. Beautiful sweet friend. (Hugs)Indigo

  6. Linden, lavender and lemon balm.
    All of these so soothing and fragrant and here in my own garden. The linden (well, American Basswood in my neighborhood) is just in blossom and I can feel this all breathing over me. And the loss. I wonder if on a soul level, I should cease my rustling and let the lost beloved dream his own cradle.

  7. Once you have seen a Kollwitz print (she was masterful), you do not forget this artist. This sculpture speaks with the same command of emotion; its pairing with the Rilke poem is inspired.

    Lemon balm, lavender, and linden all have sedative, calming effects. Rilke's references to these, given the context of the pain from loss described, perhaps is not merely poetic.

  8. The sculpture reminded me "The Pieta" from Michaelangelo, located at Sr. Paul's Cathedral at the Vatican. The poem feels like it was written upon the lost of a lover. Both, image and poem, have in common pain and sorrow for the lost of a loved one, although these losts have to be considered in different perspectives.

  9. I have seen only prints of Kollwitz's work, never a sculpture. I find the final photograph here, in the snow, to be the most wrenching: devotion, grief that spans the passing of seasons (which of course it would be, for what mother can bear the thought of the loss of her child)--yes, very like the Pieta and putting the poem in a completely different context for me, who also made the mistake of reading this first as being from the point of view of a lover. Which negates in a way the title. How beautifully Ruth has expressed "the only question worth asking."
    And so I am reminded of Brecht's "Mother Courage" the medieval camp-follower who brashly and painfully did all that she could to save her children from the ravages of war.


"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!