- By Rainer Maria Rilke
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René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke (German: [ˈʁaɪnɐ maˈʁiːa ˈʁɪlkə]), was an Austrian poet and novelist. He is "widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets".[1] He wrote both verse and highly lyrical prose.[1] Several critics have described Rilke's work as "mystical".[2][3] His writings include one novel, several collections of poetry and several volumes of correspondence in which he invokes images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude and anxiety. These themes position him as a transitional figure between traditional and modernist writers. Rilke travelled extensively throughout Europe (including Russia, Spain, Germany, France and Italy) and, in his later years, settled in Switzerland – settings that were key to the genesis and inspiration for many of his poems. While Rilke is most known for his contributions to German literature, over 400 poems were originally written in French and dedicated to the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Among English-language readers, his best-known works include the poetry collections Duino Elegies (Duineser Elegien) and Sonnets to Orpheus (Die Sonette an Orpheus), the semi-autobiographical novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge), and a collection of ten letters that was published after his death under the title Letters to a Young Poet (Briefe an einen jungen Dichter). In the later 20th century, his work found new audiences through use by New Age theologians and self-help authors[4][5][6] and frequent quotations by television programs, books and motion pictures.[7] In the United States, Rilke remains among the more popular, best-selling poets.[8]
The bleak fields are asleep, My heart alone wakes; The evening in the harbour Down his red sails takes.
Night, guardian of dreams, Now wanders through the land; The moon, a lily white, Blossoms within her hand.
How came, how came from out thy night Mary, so much light And so much gloom: Who was thy bridegroom?
Thou callest, thou callest and thou hast forgot That thou the same art not Who came to me In thy Virginity.
I am still so blossoming, so young. How shall I go on tiptoe From childhood to Annunciation Through the dim twilight Into thy Garden.
I am like a flag unfurled in space, I scent the oncoming winds and must bend with them, While the things beneath are not yet stirring, While doors close gently and there is silence in the chimneys And the windows do not yet tremble and the dust is still heavy- Then I feel the storm and am vibrant like the sea And expand and withdraw into myself And thrust myself forth and am alone in the great storm.
The leaves fall, fall as from far, Like distant gardens withered in the heavens; They fall with slow and lingering descent. And in the nights the heavy Earth, too, falls From out the stars into the Solitude.
Thus all doth fall. This hand of mine must fall And lo! the other one:-it is the law. But there is One who holds this falling Infinitely softly in His hands.
Whoever weeps somewhere out in the world Weeps without cause in the world Weeps over me. Whoever laughs somewhere out in the night Laughs without cause in the night Laughs at me.
Whoever wanders somewhere in the world Wanders in vain in the world Wanders to me. Whoever dies somewhere in the world Dies without cause in the world Looks at me.
They all have tired mouths And luminous, illimitable souls; And a longing (as if for sin) Trembles at times through their dreams.
They all resemble one another, In God's garden they are silent Like many, many intervals In His mighty melody.
But when they spread their wings They awaken the winds That stir as though God With His far-reaching master hands Turned the pages of the dark book of Beginning.
Solitude is like a rain That from the sea at dusk begins to rise; It floats remote across the far-off plain Upward into its dwelling-place, the skies, Then o'er the town it slowly sinks again. Like rain it softly falls at that dim hour When ghostly lanes turn toward the shadowy morn; When bodies weighed with satiate passion's power Sad, disappointed from each other turn; When men with quiet hatred burning deep Together in a common bed must sleep- Through the gray, phantom shadows of the dawn Lo! Solitude floats down the river wan ...
Kings in old legends seem Like mountains rising in the evening light. They blind all with their gleam, Their loins encircled are by girdles bright, Their robes are edged with bands Of precious stones-the rarest earth affords- With richly jeweled hands They hold their slender, shining, naked swords.
The Knight rides forth in coat of mail Into the roar of the world. And here is Life: the vines in the vale And friend and foe, and the feast in the hall, And May and the maid, and the glen and the grail; God's flags afloat on every wall In a thousand streets unfurled.
Beneath the armour of the Knight Behind the chain's black links Death crouches and thinks and thinks: "When will the sword's blade sharp and bright Forth from the scabbard spring And cut the network of the cloak Enmeshing me ring on ring- When will the foe's delivering stroke Set me free To dance And sing?"
I wish I might become like one of these Who, in the night on horses wild astride, With torches flaming out like loosened hair On to the chase through the great swift wind ride. I wish to stand as on a boat and dare The sweeping storm, mighty, like flag unrolled In darkness but with helmet made of gold That shimmers restlessly. And in a row, Behind me in the dark, ten men that glow With helmets that are restless, too, like mine, Now old and dull, now clear as glass they shine. One stands by me and blows a blast apace On his great flashing trumpet and the sound Shrieks through the vast black solitude around Through which, as through a wild mad dream we race. The houses fall behind us on their knees, Before us bend the streets and them we gain, The great squares yieled to us and them we seize- And on our steeds rush like the roar of rain.
Whosoever thou art! Out in the evening roam, Out from thy room thou know'st in every part, And far in the dim distance leave thy home, Whosoever thou art. Lift thine eyes which lingering see The shadows on the foot-worn threshold fall, Lift thine eyes slowly to the great dark tree That stands against heaven, solitary, tall, And thou hast visioned Life, its meanings rise Like words that in the silence clearer grow; As they unfold before thy will to know Gently withdraw thine eyes-
Strange violin! Dost thou follow me? In many foreign cities, far away, Thy lone voice spoke to me like memory. Do hundreds play thee, or does but one play?
Are there in all great cities tempest-tossed Men who would seek the rivers but for thee, Who, but for thee, would be forever lost? Why drifts thy lonely voice always to me? Why am I the neighbour always Of those who force to sing thy trembling strings? Life is more heavy-thy song says- Than the vast, heavy burden of all things.

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Word Lists:

Unfurl : make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind

Illimitable : without limits or an end

Grail : (in medieval legend) the cup or platter used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and in which Joseph of Arimathea received Christ's blood at the Cross. Quests for it undertaken by medieval knights are described in versions of the Arthurian legends written from the early 13th century onward.

Apace : swiftly; quickly

Scabbard : a sheath for the blade of a sword or dagger, typically made of leather or metal

Vibrant : full of energy and enthusiasm

Astride : with a leg on each side of

Initiation : the action of admitting someone into a secret or obscure society or group, typically with a ritual

Solitude : the state or situation of being alone

Shimmer : shine with a soft tremulous light


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