November 30, 2011

The Things I Am

The Artist's Mother

I would describe myself
like a landscape I've studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I'm coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother's face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.

From The Book of Hours I, 13

November 29, 2011

All Creation Holds Its Breath

Window with View on the Island Bréhat

All creation holds its breath, listening with me,
because, to hear you, I keep silent.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I'm all the time seen by you.

From The Book of Hours I, 18

November 28, 2011

The Homeless Ones

A Pair of Shoes, by Vincent van Gogh

There's also this to see: They will live on, they will increase,
no longer pawns of time.
They will grow like the sweet wild berries
the forest ripens as its treasure.

Then blessed are those who never turned away
and blessed are those who stood quietly in the rain.
Theirs shall be the harvest; for them the fruits.

They will outlast the pomp and power,
whose meaning and structures will crumble.
When all else is exhausted and bled of purpose,
they will lift their hands, that have survived.

The Book of Hours III, 28

November 27, 2011

The Care in a Human Gesture

Haven't you been moved, in those early Greek carvings,
by the care you see in human gesture?
Weren't love and loss so gently laid upon the shoulders
that people seemed made of different stuff
than in our day?

Think of the hands, how they touch without pressure,
although there is strength in the torso.
These figures seem to know,
"We have come this far.
This is given to us, to touch
each other in this way.
The gods may lean on us more strongly,
but it is their nature."

From the Second Duino Elegy

Greek sculpture found here

November 26, 2011

Enter Death (II)

Orpheus and Eurydice

When you died, there broke across the stage,
through the gash your leaving made,
a shaft of reality: green of real green,
real sunlight, real trees.

Still we keep acting: fearful and solemn,
reciting our script, taking on gestures.
But you, who have been withdrawn from us,
subtracted from our very being,

now and again you overcome us,
showing us the reality we glimpsed,
so that for a while, jolted back, we are life
with no thought of applause.

New Poems

November 25, 2011

Enter Death (I)

Orpheus and Eurydice

We know nothing of this going.
It excludes us. Faced with death,
what cause have we to respond
with the fear and grief or even hatred

that twist the features to a mask of tragedy?
On this side of death we play roles.
So long as we seek to please the audience,
death, who needs no approval, plays us.

New Poems

November 24, 2011

When Time Stops

In the Forest of Fontainebleu

In the fading forest a bird call sounds.
How out of place in a fading forest.
And yet the bird call roundly rests
in this moment that it made,
as wide as the sky above the fading forest.

All things sound together in that cry:
the whole land seems to lie within it,
the great wind seems to rest within it,
and the moment, which wants to persist,
stops, still, as if knowing things
arising from that cry
that you would have to die to know.

Book of Images

November 23, 2011


The Quilting Bee, by Grandma Moses

Friends can only be compared to dance and music. You cannot approach them intentionally, but only out of some involuntary need.

Friends must be the ends and not the means. Otherwise they can get in the way.

Early Journals

November 22, 2011

Pont du Carousel

Pont du Carrousel, Afternoon
by Camille Pissaro

The blind man who stands on the bridge
is a milestone marking the edge of the nameless.
He is the unchanging thing
around which the heavens turn,
the motionless midpoint of the stars.
All else is hurry and display.

He is the upright and unmoving one
set down amidst entangled paths.
In a heedless generation
he is a dark doorway to the underworld.

Book of Images

November 21, 2011

Autumn Tree

Parsonage Garden at Nuenen with Pond and Figures

Oh tall tree of our knowing, shedding its leaves:
It's a matter now of facing the preponderance
of sky appearing through its branches.
Filled by summer, it seemed deep and thick,
filling our minds, too, so comfortably.
Now its whole interior is an avenue of stars.
And the stars do not know us.

Uncollected Poems

November 20, 2011


Winter Landscape, by Vasily Kandinsky

I am most struck by the small paintings you sent. I experience in them your old form, in miniature, where vast inner space is mirrored, where even winter and snow (and we have our share of both!) bespeak huge distance and wandering, the freshness and joy of pure undiluted youth.

Letters to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
April 12, 1922

November 19, 2011


Two Poplars on a Hill

And we: always and everywhere spectators,
turned not toward the Open
but to the stuff of our lives.
It downs us. We set it in order.
It falls apart. We order it again
and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this?
Whatever we do, we are in the posture
of one who is about to depart.
Like a person lingering
for a moment on the last hill
where he can see his whole valley—
that is how we live, forever
taking our leave.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy

November 18, 2011


Brooklyn Bridge
by Edward Steichen

How far from us everything is,
and long gone.
I think the star whose light
reaches me now
has been dead for thousands of years.

I think I heard
in the boat that went by
something anxious being said.

In a house, a clock
has struck the hour...
In which house?
I would like to go out from my heart
and stand under the great sky.
I would like to pray.
One of all those stars
must surely still live.

I think I used to know
which star may have kept on shining—
which one, like a white city,
rises still at the far end of its light.

Book of Images

November 17, 2011

Orpheus, Do You Hear?

Orpheus, by Auguste Rodin

Orpheus, do you hear
the new sound
droning and roaring?
Many now exult in it.

Though the Machine
insists on our praise,
who can listen
with all this noise?

See, it rolls over everything,
weakening us
and taking our place.

Since its strength is of our making,
why can't it serve
and not possess us?

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 18

November 16, 2011

Not Caught in the Drama

Adam and Eve with the Forbidden Fruit

I can still only think of God as the One who allows everything, the One who is not caught up in the whole inexhaustible drama.

Letter to Marianne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild
December 5, 1914

November 15, 2011

Onto a Vast Plain

Winter Garden, by Vincent van Gogh

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

From The Book of Hours II, 1

November 14, 2011

Song of the Drunkard

The Drunkard, by Marc Chagall

It was not always with me. It would come and go.
I wanted to hold it. The wine held it for me.
What it was, I no longer know.
But I was the one being held, held this way and that,
until I could do nothing else.
I, fool.

Now I am trapped in his game,
dealt out with contempt, to be lost
over and over again to brutish death.
Each time death wins, he uses me,
a filthy card, to scratch his grey scabs,
before tossing me on the dung heap.

Book of Images

November 13, 2011

Song of the Beggar

Beggar Man and Beggar Woman
by Rembrandt van Rijn

You'll find me in all weathers beyond the gate,
unsheltered from rain and sun.
Every so often I cradle my right ear
in my right hand.
Then my own voice sounds to me
as no one ever hears it.

Then I can't tell for certain
who is screaming:
me or someone else.
Poets cry out for more important matters.

At times I even close my eyes
so my face can disappear.
The way it lies with its full weight in my hands,
it is almost like rest.
Then no one can think I lack a place
to lay my head.

New Poems

November 12, 2011

The Voices

Orphan Man in Sunday Clothes
with an Eye Patch

The rich and the happy can choose to keep silent,
no need to bid for attention.
But the desperate must reveal themselves,
must say: I am blind
or: I am going blind
or: It's not good for me here on Earth
or: My child is sick
or: I am not holding it together...

But when is that really enough?
So, lest people pass them by like objects,
sometimes they sing.

And sometimes their songs are beautiful.

Book of Images

November 11, 2011

Three Sprigs of Heather

Clara Rilke Westhoff

Never has heather so touched and even moved me as when I found these three sprigs in your dear letter. Since then they lie in the pages of my Book of Images and permeate them with their strong, serious fragrance which is actually only the scent of autumnal Earth. And how marvelous is this scent. Never, it seems to me, has Earth so let herself be inhaled in one single fragrance. The ripe Earth, in one fragrance that is no less intense than that of the sea: bitter if you could taste it and more like honey if you could hear it. Such depths in it, of darkness, almost of the grave, and yet again wind, tar and turpentine and Ceylon tea. Serious and destitute like a beggar-monk, while also like the most precious incense, hearty and resinous. And to behold it: these sprigs of heather are like most elegant embroidery—with the violet-hued silk (a violet so moist it could be the sun's complementary color) stitching cypresses in a Persian carpet. You had to have seen that. I think that the little sprigs could not have been so lovely before you put them in your  letter. You must have told them something amazing.

Letter to Clara Westhoff Rilke
September 13, 1907

November 10, 2011

Elegy to Marina Tsvetayeva-Efrom (II)

Marina Tsvetayeva-Efrom

Oh the losses in the universe, Marina, the perishing stars!
We don't increase their number when we plunge.
In the All, everything has long been counted.
Our own falling does not diminish the sacred number.
Accepting this, we fall to the Source and heal...

Waves, Marina, we are the ocean! Depths, Marina, we are the sky!
Earth, Marina, we are earth, a thousand times spring.
We are larks whose outbursts of song
fling them to the heavens.

Uncollected Poems

Quatrain sent by Rilke to Marina Tsvetayeva
with a copy of his Duino Elegies, May 3, 1926

November 9, 2011

Arriving at Rodin's Place in Meudon

 Rilke and Auguste Rodin
photographer unknown

He has received me, but that means nothing until I tell you how. Thus: the way a beloved place receives you on your return through many tangled trails. A spring which you sang and lived for day and night while you were gone. A grove over whose leafy canopies the birds cast shadows as they fly back and forth. A path along the roses that never ceased to lead you where you needed to go. And like a great dog did he receive me, recognizing me with peaceable, caressing eyes. And like an eastern god, moving only from within his noble calm, and with the smiles of a woman and the eager hands of a child. And he led me around to see the gardens and houses and studios.

Letter to Clara Westhoff Rilke
September 15, 1905

November 8, 2011


The Street Performers in the Night

Night. You with your depth-dissolving face
pressed against my face.
You, counterbalance
to my awestruck gaze.

Night, shuddering in my regard,
but in yourself so steady;
inexhaustible creation, enduring beyond
the fate of earth;

brimming with new stars, who fling
fire from their birth
into the soundless adventure
of galactic spaces:

your sheer existence,
you transcender of all things, makes me so small.
Yet, one with the darkening earth,
I dare to be in you.

Uncollected Poems

November 7, 2011

Only Love Can Grasp Them

The Tree of Life, Soclet Frieze
by Gustav Klimt

Works of art belong immeasurably to themselves, and are accessible least of all to criticism. Only love can grasp them and hold them and respond to them fairly. Always trust your own feeling, rather than others' discussions, interpretations and arguments. Should you be mistaken, then slowly and with time the natural growth of your inner life will bring you to fuller awareness.

Viareggio, April 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

November 6, 2011


Rilke during WWI, in Austrian military uniform
photo found here

Once I was as yielding as early wheat,
but it pleased you, raging one,
to ignite the heart I offered you.
Now, like a lion's, it is on fire.

What sort of mouth did you allot me,
back then when I arrived?
It was like a wound, which now is bleeding
one catastrophe after another.

Daily I resound with fresh horrors
that you, insatiable one, contrive,
and they do not destroy my mouth.
Even you lack the power to silence it now,

when those whom my people have crushed and scattered are finally lost.
Amidst the rubble, I would want
to keep on hearing the voice that has been mine,
from the beginning a howl.

New Poems

November 5, 2011

God Is Ripening

Meadow in the Mountains

When gold is in the mountain
and we've ravaged the depths
till we've given up digging,

it will be brought forth into day
by the river that mines
the silences of stone.

Even when we don't desire it,
God is ripening.

The Book of Hours I, 16

November 4, 2011

Offering What We Are

Red Vineyards at Arles

Oh, the places we would pour ourselves over,
pushing into the meager surfaces
all the impulses of our heart, our desire, our need.
To whom in the end do we offer ourselves?

To the stranger, who misunderstands us,
to the other, whom we never found,
to the servant, who could not free us,
to the winds of spring, which we could not hold,
and to silence, so easy to lose.

Uncollected Poems

November 3, 2011

Mohammed's Calling

Angel with a Sword

When into the hidden cave the angel stepped—
he was unmistakable, so towering and radiant—
the lone man there shed all claims
and asked only to be permitted
to remain the simple man he was,
a merchant confused by his travels.
He could not read—and now a word like this
was too much for even a wise one.

But the angel, imperious, pointed over and over
to what was written on the page he held,
and would not yield and kept insisting: read.

Then the man read, and when he did the angel bowed.
It was as if he had always been reading,
and now was able to obey and bring to pass.

New Poems

November 2, 2011

What I Want

Rocks at L'Estaque, by Paul Cézanne

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

The Book of Hours I, 14

November 1, 2011

Between the Stars

Bloaters on a Yellow Piece of Paper

How far it is between the stars, how much farther
is what's right here. The distance, for example,
between a child and one who walks by—
oh, how inconceivably far.

Not only in measurable spans does Fate
move through our lives.
Think how great the distance between a young girl
and the boy she avoids and loves.

Everything is far, nowhere does the circle close.
See, on the plate upon the festive table
how strangely the fish is staring.

Fish are mute, we used to think. Who knows?
We may, in the end, find that their silence
says more to us than our words.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 10