Rainer Maria Rilke

Live Your Way into the Answer

Kit Spahr: Alum Creek, July 8, 2013

"I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

Back into the Source

Supercell, Johnson City, Kansas, by Kelly DeLay, April 26, 2012

Onto a Vast Plain
by Rainer Maria Rilke, from Book of Hours (translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows) 

[listen]

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

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 allv
can feel you when he reaches for you.


See also: "A Wild Love for the World," On Being, March 17, 2011

Infinity is Open to Your Sight

Entrance
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Dana Gioia

Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,
Out of the room that lets you feel secure.
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.
With eyes that have forgotten how to see
From viewing things already too well-known,
Lift up into the dark a huge, black tree
And put it in the heavens: tall, alone.
And you have made the world and all you see.
It ripens like the words still in your mouth.
And when at last you comprehend its truth,
Then close your eyes and gently set it free.

There is a Boundary to Looking

Full moon rise over Woody Mountain.

photo by Pez Owen

Turning-Point
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell

The road from intensity to greatness
passes through sacrifice.         —Kassner

For a long time he attained it in looking.
Stars would fall to their knees
beneath his compelling vision.
Or as he looked on, kneeling,
his urgency's fragrance
tired out a god until
it smiled at him in its sleep.

Towers he would gaze at so
that they were terrified:
building them up again, suddenly, in an instant!
But how often the landscape,
overburdened by day,
came to rest in his silent awareness, at nightfall.

Animals trusted him, stepped
into his open look, grazing,
and the imprisoned lions
stared in as if into an incomprehensible freedom;
birds, as it felt them, flew headlong
through it; and flowers, as enormous
as they are to children, gazed back
into it, on and on.

And the rumor that there was someone
who knew how to look,
stirred those less
visible creatures:
stirred the women.

Looking how long?
For how long now, deeply deprived,
beseeching in the depths of his glance?

When he, whose vocation was Waiting, sat far from home—
the hotel's distracted unnoticing bedroom
moody around him, and in the avoided mirror
once more the room, and later
from the tormenting bed
once more:
then in the air the voices
discussed, beyond comprehension,
his heart, which could still be felt;
debated what through the painfully buried body
could somehow be felt—his heart;
debated and passed their judgment:
that it did not have love.

(And denied him further communions.)

For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don't know them.
Learn, inner man, to look at your inner woman,
the one attained from a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.

[Thanks, Ryan!]

Let Everything Happen, Just Keep Going

Two poems from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours translated by Joanna Macy, from “A Wild Love for the World,” Being, September 16, 2010":

Onto a Vast Plain
[listen]

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees fless. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

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.

Go to the Limits of Your Longing
[listen]

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Transformers of the Earth

From Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell:

The First Elegy

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to 
     endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
     And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note
of my dark sobbing. Ah, whom can we ever turn to
in our need? Not angels, not humans,
and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world. Perhaps there remains for us
some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take
into our vision; there remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
     Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite  
     space
gnaws at our faces. Whom would it not remain for—that
     longed-after,
mildly disillusioning presence, which the solitary heart
so painfully meets. Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
     Don't you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

*     *     *

Commenting on this passage in a letter written thirteen years later, Rilke describes the angel in greater detail:

Anselm Kiefer, Die Ordnung der Engel/The Hierarchy of Angels, 1985–87. The “angel” of the Elegies has nothing to do with the angel of the Christian heaven (it has more in common with the angel figures of Islam). The angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we are accomplishing, already appears in its completion. For the angel of the Elegies, all the towers and palaces of the past are existent because they have long been invisible, and the still-standing towers and bridges of our reality are already invisible, although still (for us) physically lasting. The angel of the Elegies is that being who guarantees the recognition in the invisible of a higher order of reality.—Therefore “terrifying” for us, because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible.—All the worlds in the Duino Elegies & The Sonnets of Orpheus universe are plunging into the invisible as into their next-deeper reality; a few stars intensify immediately and pass away in the infinite consciousness of the angels—, others are entrusted to beings who slowly and laboriously transform them, in whose terrors and delights they attain their next invisible realization. We, let it be emphasized once more, we, in the sense of the Elegies, are these transformers of the earth; our whole existence, the flights and plunges of our love, everything, qualifies us for this task (beside which there is, essentially, no other).

Whoever You Are

Initiation
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.

Try to Love the Questions

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke