Some people have minds that allow them to memorize poetry and long speeches. I regret that I am not one of those people. I am a great fan of Rilke. I must rely on the written word to hear his poetry in my mind.
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in 1875.
His parents had previously lost another child, a daughter, in her infancy; his mother dressed him in girl’s clothing until he was five years old, and she called him Sophia (I don’t know that she was aware that Sophia means Wisdom).
Rilke married in his twenties, but it only lasted a year; he and his former wife remained close friends for the remainder of his life.
During his life, he met a number of famous artists–writers, musicians, and visual artists. He and Auguste Rodin were close friends.
Rilke had leukemia, so he was immune system-compromised. He spent quite a bit of time living in a sanatorium. Sadly, he died in 1926 from a reaction to the prick of a rose thorn, demonstrating that beauty has its ugly side.
Here are some excerpts that I’ve collected for myself. I arranged them in alphabetical order so one doesn’t seem more important than another with the exception of the two long ones at the end. I hope they add to your life as well.
A person isn’t who they are
during the last conversation you had with them–
they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.
All emotions are pure which gather you and lift you up;
that emotion is impure which seizes only one side of your being and so distorts you.
All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.
Believe that with your feelings and your work
you are taking part in the greatest;
the more strongly you cultivate this belief,
the more will reality and the world go forth from it.
Everything is blooming most recklessly;
if it were voices instead of colors,
there would be an unbelievable shrieking
into the heart of the night.
Extinguish my sight,
and I can still see you;
plug up my ears,
and I can still hear;
even without feet
I can walk toward you,
and without mouth
I can still implore.
Break off my arms,
and I will hold you
with my heart
as if it were a hand;
strangle my heart,
and my brain will still throb;
and should you set fire to my brain,
I still can carry you with my blood.
For one human being to love another;
that is perhaps the most difficult
of all our tasks,
the ultimate, the last test and proof,
the work for which all other work
is but preparation.
He reproduced himself with so much humble objectivity,
with the unquestioning, matter-of-fact interest
of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks:
there’s another dog.
I have never been aware before how many faces there are.
There are quantities of human beings,
but there are many more faces, for each person has several.
I hold this to be the highest task
for a bond between two people:
that each protects the solitude of the other.
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
If your daily life seems poor,
do not blame it;
that you are not poet enough
to call forth its riches;
for the Creator, there is no poverty.
It is a tremendous act of violence to begin anything.
I am not able to begin.
I simply skip what should be the beginning.
It is good to be solitary,
for solitude is difficult;
that something is difficult
must be reason the more
for us to do it.
Let life happen to you.
life is in the right, always.
Live your questions now,
and perhaps even without knowing it,
you will live along some distant day into your answers.
Love consists in this,
that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
Love is like the measles.
The older you get it,
the worse the attack.
More belongs to marriage than four legs in a bed.
No great art has ever been made
without the artist having known danger.
Once the realization is accepted
that even between the closest human beings
infinite distances continue,
a wonderful living side-by-side can grow,
if they succeed in loving the distance between them
which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
One had to take some action against fear
when once it laid hold of one.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being
something helpless that wants help from us.
Spring has returned.
The Earth is like a child
that knows poems.
Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger,
of having gone through an experience all the way to the end,
where no one can go any further.
The deepest experience of the creator is feminine,
for it is experience of receiving and bearing.
The future enters into us,
in order to transform itself in us,
long before it happens.
The only journey is the one within.
The purpose of life
is to be defeated by greater and greater things.
There are no classes in life for beginners;
right away you are always asked
to deal with what is most difficult.
There are so many things about which
some old man ought to tell one while one is little;
for when one is grown
one would know them as a matter of course.
This is the miracle that happens every time
to those who really love:
the more they give, the more they possess.
Truly to sing, that is a different breath.
Who has not sat before his own heart’s curtain?
It lifts: and the scenery is falling apart.
The leaves are falling, falling as if from afar,
as if withered in the distant gardens of heaven;
with nay-saying gestures they fall.
And in the nights falls the heavy earth
from all the stars into loneliness.
We all are falling. This hand there falls.
And look at the others: it is in all of them.
And yet there is one, who holds all this
falling with infinite gentleness in his hands.
I’m too alone in the world, and yet not
to make every hour holy.
I am too small in the world, and yet not
just to stand before you like a thing,
dark and shrewd.
I want my will, and I want to be with
as it moves towards deed;
and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times,
when something is approaching,
I want to be with those who are wise
or else alone.
I want always to be a mirror that reflects
your whole being,
and never to be too blind or too old
to hold your heavy, swaying image.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere do I want to remain folded,
for where I am bent and folded, there
I am lie.
And I want my meaning
true for you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I studied
closely for a long, long time,
like a word I finally understood,
like the pitcher of water I use every day ,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the deadliest storm of all.