R. M. Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke
(1875 – 1926)


Rilke’s writing does not belong to any school, and his major artistic mentors were not poets at all, but the novelist Tolstoy and the sculptor Rodin, both of them unique, monumental and speaking beyond the times they lived in. Countless readers feel Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry speaks personally just to them, while at the same time opening glimpses into the infinite. I too feel the intimacy of Rilke’s voice as if he were a personal friend, and was drawn into translating his work unwittingly, the way a current might draw a swimmer out to sea. Years after translating the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, I learned my father had carried copies of these poems with him when he fled Nazi Germany in 1938, and used them later to court my mother. So the poems belong to what gave me life.

Poems by Rilke

The Swan / Der Schwan

This toiling at tasks that remain to be done,
this trudging as if bound, in a heavy way,
is like the ungainly gait of the swan.

Buddha In A Halo / Buddha In Der Glorie

Center of all centers, of all seeds the seed,
almond wrapped in itself to grow sweet,-
to all of the stars this is what you feed
and is your fruit’s flesh: It is you I greet.

Look, you sense nothing more needs your care;
In the infinite is where to find your fruit’s skin

Music / Musik

Oh, if only I knew for whom I play
I could always give voice to what rushing brooks say.

If I could but sense whether dead children found
any joy in hearing my inner star’s sound

If girls who are gone could both waft and hear
around me when the evening wind is near.

If I could silently stroke through dead hair
of a person once wracked with fury and care…

Love Song / Liebenslied

How shall I keep my soul from
Brushing against yours?  How shall I
Lift it past you toward any other thing?

Translated Essays on Rilke

Bert Hellinger

Thoughts on Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus

A small copy of Rilke’s Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus has been a constant companion on my travels for many years.  I have read it again and again –they are inexhaustible to me.  I have also had thoughts about them and have written these down.  Here are some of them.

Dieter Bassermann

(transcription of a lecture given in September 1945)

Rilke’s Legacy For Our Time

There is a quote from Rilke from the war years of 1914-18 that reveals his full despair about the war, a despair he at times was barely able to master.  At that time he was reputed to have said to a girlfriend:  “Art has become superfluous;  can art heal wounds?  Can it take the bitterness out of death?  It does not soothe despair, it does not feed the hungry.  It does not clothe those who are freezing.”