Happy Birthday, Rainer Maria Rilke!

I haven’t much to say about this German poet, except that I haven’t read much of him, have loved whatever little I have, and would very much like to read some more of him!

A lot of beauty in poetry is lost when it is translated into another tongue, that is the downside. The upside is that people who do not speak the language can partake of some of its beauty. A lot of Rilke’s poetry is fleeting… like breeze. That, I guess, is a very cliched way of describing poetry… but it really is like that.

Consider these lines,
Along the sun-drenched roadside, from the great
hollow half-treetrunk, which for generations
has been a trough, renewing in itself
an inch or two of rain, I satisfy
my thirst: taking the water’s pristine coolness
into my whole body through my wrists.
Drinking would be too powerful, too clear;
but this unhurried gesture of restraint
fills my whole consciousness with shining water.

Thus, if you came, I could be satisfied
to let my hand rest lightly, for a moment,
lightly, upon your shoulder or your breast.

This is not just lyrical poetry, this is the kind of stuff that touches you in a very soft way, then disappears. It comes back at a much later time and you think “I can feel those lines, but I don’t remember what they are…”
I love it when words can do that to you… make you theirs.

“In the dusk you notice the book shelves
with their volumes in gold and in brown;
and you think of far lands you journeyed,
of pictures and of shimmering gowns
worn by women you conquered and lost.”

He had leukemia at some point and died of it. But many believe he died of an infection he contracted when he pricked himself on a rose thorn. It is probably because he wrote these lines for his epitaph…

“Rose, oh pure contradiction, delight
of being no one’s sleep under so
many lids.”

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Rainer Maria Rilke!

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