September 30, 2011

No Miracles, Please

Avenue of Poplars in Autumn

I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
what you are.

No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
become clearer
from generation to generation.

From The Book of Hours II, 15

September 29, 2011

Where Does a Smile Go

Those who are beautiful—
who can keep them as they are?
Unceasingly in their faces
the life in them arises and goes forth.
Like dew from morning grass,
like steam from a plate of food,
what is ours goes out from us.

Where does a smile go, or the upward glance,
the sudden warm movement of the heart?
Yet that is what we are. Does the universe
we dissolve into
taste of us a little?

From the Second Duino Elegy

Original photography and music from marieancolie:

September 28, 2011

In Rome

Clara and Rainer Maria Rilke
in Rome

There is much beauty here, for great beauty is everywhere. Living waters flow endlessly through ancient aqueducts into the great city, and dance in many piazzas over white stone basins and spread out in spacious pools, murmuring by day and lifting their murmur into the starry, wind-softened night.  There are gardens here, unforgettable boulevards, and stairs—stairs designed by Michelangelo, stairs inspired by downward flowing water—step flowing into widening step like wave into wave. From such impressions you gather yourself, you win yourself back from the clamoring multiplicity, and slowly learn to know a very few things in which the eternal is reflected, which you love and in which your solitude allows you to take part.

Rome, October 29, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

September 27, 2011

The Books You Love

The Novel Reader, by Vincent van Gogh

Live for awhile in the books you love. Learn from them what is worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be returned to you a thousand times over. Whatever your life may become, these books—of this I am certain—will weave through the web of your unfolding. They will be among the strongest of all threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys.

Viareggio, April 5, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

September 26, 2011

The Violin I Keep Hearing

Blue Violin, by Marc Chagall

Strange violin, are you following me?
In how many far-off cities
has your lonely night spoken to mine?
Are hundreds playing you, or only one?

Are there, in all the great cities,
those who, without you,
would be lost in the rivers?
And why am I ever the one to hear you?

Why am I always the neighbor
to those troubled ones who force you to sing?
And to say life is harder
than the hardest of things?

Book of Images

September 25, 2011

My Own Deep Soul

Leo Tolstoy, by Leonid Pasternak

You, my own deep soul,
trust me. I will not betray you.
My blood is alive with many voices
telling me I am made of longing.

What mystery breaks over me now?
In its shadow I come into life.
For the first time I am alone with you—

you, my power to feel.

From The Book of Hours I, 39

September 24, 2011


Abraham and the Three Angels

They all have tired mouths
and bright, seamless souls.
And a yearning, as for sin,
drifts at times through their dreams.

They mostly resemble each other.
In the garden of God they are silent,
like rest-notes
in his music and his might.

Only when they spread their wings,
do they stir the air—
as if God with wide sculptor's hands
were turning pages
in the hidden book of first things.

Book of Images

September 23, 2011

The God That Is Coming

Corridor in Saint-Paul Hospital

You too will find your strength.
We who must live in this time
cannot imagine how strong you will become—
how strange, how surprising,
yet familiar as yesterday.

We will sense you
like a fragrance from a nearby garden
and watch you more through our days
like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.

We are cradled close in your hands—
and lavishly flung forth.

From The Book of Hours II, 26

September 22, 2011

The Portal (III)

Ruth crouching among the "forms"
on Chartres Cathedral steps, 2003

These forms loom tall, hearts restrained,
poised in eternity.
Here and there from the folds of a robe—
a gesture emerges, as formal as they,

and, arrested before completion, still is there,
overtaken by the centuries. Behold their equilibrium
as they gaze out from the arches of stone
into a world they do not see.

They have not negated this world of turmoil
that bends and shakes
and still manages to hold them.

For its shapes, like acrobats,
only twist and contort themselves
so the pole on their forehead does not fall.

New Poems

September 21, 2011

The Portal (II)

in front of Chartres Cathedral
by Ruth

So much life can be seen here.
Just as on a painted stage set
the world can be seen; and just as the hero
performs against this backdrop,

so here in the darkness of this portal
unfolds an eternal drama.
It is as endless and everywhere as a Father God
who wondrously transforms himself

into a Son, whose role is divided up
in many little walk-on parts,
all drawn from misery's repertoire.

For, as we know, it is only from among
the blind, the outcast, the demented,
that, as a single actor, the Savior comes forth.

New Poems

September 20, 2011

The Portal (I)

Chartres Cathedral
view from salon de thé
by Ruth

They stayed right here, as if left behind
by a flood that had washed their forms
free from the rock.
The waters receding erased some details,

but their hands are generous
and grasp at nothing.
They stayed, distinguished from their native rock
only by a halo or a bishop's mitre,

and sometimes by a tranquil smile
kept it alive in a face
where it lasts forever.

They retreat now into the shadowed doorway
that could be the shell of a listening ear
which captures every moan of a city in pain.

New Poems

September 19, 2011

Creating for Always

Those who create are like you, God.
They long for the eternal.
Carving, they say: Stone, be forever!
And that means: be yours.

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour.
They kiss an expressionless mouth into a smile
as if creating it anew, more beautiful.

From The Book of Hours II, 10

September 18, 2011

And God Said to Me, Write:

Mont Saint-Victoire, by Paul Cézanne

Leave the cruelty to kings.
Without that angel barring the way to love
there would be no bridge for me
into time.

From The Book of Hours I, 53

September 17, 2011

Like Islands

Aleko and Zemphira by Moonlight

I am learning to see something new. In addition to sky and land, a third thing has equal significance: the air.

Things usually appear to me as finite and limited in comparison with the great body of Earth. But here there are many things that seem like islands—alone, bright, caressed on all sides by ever-moving air that makes their forms stand out so clearly.

Early Journals

September 16, 2011

Afternoon, Before Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

The Opera Garnier dome, painted by Marc Chagall

Let yourself not be misled by the notes
that fall to you from the generous wind.

Wait watchfully. Hands that are eternal
may come to play upon your strings.

Early Journals

September 15, 2011

To Use Sorrow

Bank of the Oise at Auvers

What you say of your life—that its most painful event was also its greatest—that is, so to speak, the secret theme of these pages, indeed the inner belief that gave rise to them. It is the conviction that what is greatest in our existence, what makes it precious beyond words, has the modesty to use sorrow in order to penetrate our soul.

Letter to Madame M-R
January 4, 1923

September 14, 2011

Go Forth

Autumn Landscape at Dusk

And God said to me, Go forth:

For I am king of time.
But to you I am only the shadowy one
who knows with you your loneliness
and sees through your eyes.

He sees through my eyes
in all the ages.

From The Book of Hours I, 53

September 13, 2011

Memory Is Not Enough

Black Sea with Moon, Nurse with Baby

To Lou Andreas-Salomé, Duino, late autumn, 1911

Memory is not enough...
I do not recollect. What I am
is alive in me because of you. I do not reinvent you
at sadly cooled-off places you have left behind.
Even your absence is filled
with your warmth and is more real
than your not-existing. Longing often meanders
into vagueness. Why should I throw myself away
when something in you may be
touching me, very lightly, like moonlight
on a window seat.

Uncollected Poems

September 12, 2011

The Nothing You Are Grasping

The Creation of Man, by Marc Chagall

Do you still not know how little endures?
Fling the nothing you are grasping
out into the spaces we breathe.
Maybe the birds
will feel in their flight
how the air has expanded.

From the First Duino Elegy

September 11, 2011

Dear Darkening Ground

 Poet's Garden, by Vincent van Gogh

Dear darkening ground,
you've endured so patiently the walls we've built,
perhaps you'll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor—let their work
grip them another five hours, or seven,

before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they're worthy of you and real.

From The Book of Hours I, 61

September 10, 2011

Fight Harmlessly

Battle of Flowers

How gladly, my young friend, I would respond to your new leaflet; but here the words come hard to me. On the whole I want to acknowledge that you do well to approach this conflict as a matter intimately related to your own disposition. This is surely the most responsible attitude. You must only take care to eliminate from the tone you use all consternation and reproachfulness. My friend, this is important: fight harmlessly.

Letter to Rudolf Bodlander
March 23, 1922

September 9, 2011

When Doubt Serves

Age of Bronze, Middelheim, Antwerp

Doubt can serve you well, if you train it. It must become a way of knowing, a good critic. Every time doubt wants to spoil something for you, ask why it finds something ugly and demand proofs. Thus tested by you, doubt may become bewildered and embarrassed, even aggressive. But don't give in, demand reasons and be persistent and attentive every single time, and the day will come when, instead of a destroyer, he will become one of your best servants—perhaps one of the most intelligent of those who help you build your life.

Furnborg, Jonsered, Sweden, November 4, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

September 8, 2011

To Be Patient with Sadness

Two Peasant Women Digging in a Field

The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and unerringly a new revelation can enter us, and the more we can make it our own. Later on when it "happens" —when it manifests in our response to another person—we will feel it as belonging to our innermost being.

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

September 7, 2011

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (V)

Landscape, by Paul Cézanne

Eurydice was no longer the fair beauty
celebrated in Orpheus' singing,
no longer the fragrance and landscape of the bed,
no more the property of any man.

She was already unbound, like loosened hair,
surrendered like falling rain,
and generously offered to all creation.
She was already root.

And when, suddenly,
the god held her back and with anguish
spoke the words: he has turned around,
she was puzzled and softly answered, Who?

Up ahead, dark against the brightness of a gateway,
stood someone whose features she did not recognize.
He stood and saw how on the pale ribbon of the meadow path
the messenger god had silently turned
to watch the form of one retracing her steps,
constricted by the winding sheets,
uncertain, meek, without impatience.

New Poems

September 6, 2011

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (IV)

Chateau Noir, Paul Cézanne

Now Eurydice walked at the hand of a god,
her steps, constricted by the winding sheets,
uncertain, meek, without impatience.
She was deep within herself like a woman full with child,
and gave no thought now to the man who walked ahead
or the path that rose toward life.
She was deep within herself, and her having died
was a fullness she carried.
Like a fruit, she was filled with the sweetness
and darkness of her huge death,
still so new she could hardly grasp it.

She had entered a new virginity,
had becomes untouchable; her sex had closed
like a wildflower toward evening,
and her hands were so estranged from marriage
that even the god's touch, infinitely light,
disturbed her as too familiar.

New Poems

September 5, 2011

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (III)

Landscape with brook, by Paul Cézanne

He told himself they must be coming.
He said the words aloud and heard them fade away.
They must be coming, it was just
that they were moving so quietly.
If he might turn a single time
(if to look back were not the ruin
of this whole venture now near completion),
surely he would see those two
following him so noiselessly.
The little god of journeys and messages,
winged cap above observant eyes,
wings at the ankles too, slender staff held out before him,
and entrusted to his left hand: her.

The one so loved, that from a single lyre
more lament came forth than from centuries' sorrows.
So loved that a world took form from that lament
where everything came to be once more:
path and village, forest and valley, field, river, animal.

And round this lamenting world, as if
it were a second earth, moved a sun and star-strewn heavens,
a grieving heaven with grief-stricken stars.
That's how loved she was.

New Poems

September 4, 2011

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (II)

Houses along a road, by Paul Cézanne

On this single path they came.

First, the slender figure cloaked in blue,
looking straight ahead, tense and unspeaking.
Propelled by relentless haste,
his stride devoured the path. Under the folds
of the mantel, his hands were clenched,
and barely felt the weight of the lyre he carried with him always.
His senses were as though divided:
for his sight, like a dog, raced ahead,
turned around, came back only to run off again
and wait at the next bend.
But his hearing lingered behind.
Sometimes it seemed to be trying to reach back
to the steps of the other two
who should follow him all the way uphill.
At times there was nothing but the echo of his own footfall
and the flutter of his cloak behind him.

New Poems

September 3, 2011

Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes (I)

Rock Forest of Fontainebleu

It was the mysterious mine of souls.
They threaded their way through its darkness
like veins of silver. Between roots
sprang up the blood that flows to the living
and in the dark it looked as hard as porphyry.
Nothing else was red.

Rocks were there
and forests of shadows. Bridges over chasms
and a vast, depthless lake of grey
that extended above its distant bed
like rain clouds over the land.
On either side of the pale ribbon of that one path
meadows unfolded, endlessly opening.

New Poems

September 2, 2011


Field of Poppies, by Vincent van Gogh

Lord, the great cities are lost and rotting.
Their time is running out. . . .
The people there live harsh and heavy,
crowded together, weary of their own routines.

Beyond them waits and breathes your earth,
but where they are it cannot reach them.

They don't know that somewhere
wind is blowing through a field of flowers.

From the Book of Hours III, 4/5

September 1, 2011


painting by Marc Chagall

There were a few of us, playmates
in the scattered gardens of the city.
Remember how we found each other
and hesitantly liked each other,

and, like the lamb with the talking scroll,
spoke in silences. The good times we had belonged to no one.
Whose could they be? They disappeared amid all the hurrying people
and the worries to come with the long years.

Wagons and trucks rolled by. We didn't care.
Houses rose around us, solid but unreal, and no one knew us.
What, after all, was real?

Nothing. Only the ball, the beautiful arcs it made.
Not even the children were real, except for the moment
of reaching up and ah! catching the ball.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 8