Diary of the Plague Year: Day 20 4 April 2020: Rilke

There is a really good introduction to the Penguin Poetry edition of Rilke’s Selected Poems by J.B. Leishman.

From his introduction:

…”The notion of a poet as one who just waited for the coming of poetic moods in which he could write “poetically” about “poetic” subjects became more and more distasteful to him. Could he not find some way of practising that precept which Rodin kept on repeating, Il faut toujours travailler? Could he not somehow, like a sculptor or a painter, set himself down day by day in front of his model and, without fussing about inspiration, simply get to work?”

…”All that another poet might profitably try to imitate would be his artistic integrity, his passion for perfection, and his willingness to remain a perpetual beginner. In November 1920, trying, in an earlier and temporary refuge, to achieve that degree of concentration which he later achieved at Muzot, he wrote to an intimate friend:

Always at the commencement of work that first innocence must be re-achieved, you must return to that unsophisticated spot where the angel discovered you when he brought you the first binding message … if the angel deigns to come, it will be because you have convinced him, not with tears, but with your humble resolve to be always beginning: to be a beginner!”

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 20 4 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke


You are not nearer God than we;
he’s far from everyone
And yet your hands most wonderfully
reveal his benison.
From woman’s sleeves none ever grew
so ripe, so shimmeringly:
I am the day, I am the dew,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

Pardon, now my long journey’s done,
I had forgot to say
what he who sat as in the sun,
grand in his gold array,
told me to tell you, pensive one
(space has bewildered me).
I am the start of what’s begun,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

I spread my wings out wide and rose,
the space around grew less;
your little house quite overflows
with my abundant dress.
But still you keep your solitude
and hardly notice me:
I’m but a breeze within the wood,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

The angels tremble in their choir,
grow pale, and separate:
never were longing and desire
so vague and yet so great.
Something perhaps is going to be
that you perceived in dream.
Hail to you! For my soul can see
that you are ripe and teem.

You lofty gate, that any day
may open for our good:
your ear my longing songs assay,
my word – I know now – lost its way
in you as in a wood.

And thus your last dream was designed
to be fulfilled by me.
God looked at me: he made me blind …

You, Lady, are the Tree.



The Book of Images
Selected Poems

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by J.B. Leishman
Penguin Poetry