Saturday, 26 January 2008

Reading Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke died in 1926 leaving a legacy of fine poetry. This morning on the local radio the well-known actor Otto Schenk, currently appearing as Herr von Ledig in Nestroy's Unverhofft in Vienna, admitted to being something of a Rilke afficionado. Schenk said that he couldn't get through a day without reading at least 3 poems by top poets such as Rilke. He explained that poetry was almost a religion. Reading poetry is like praying, said Schenk. It's unbelievable how poets manage to explain the unexplainable and how they find the words to do so, he added. Otto Schenk's remarks stirred something in P-i-R's soul, causing him to reach for his own Rilke volume, too long unopened, to find poems to share.

The Neighbour

Strange violin, why do you follow me?
In how many foreign cities did you
speak of your lonely nights and those of mine.
Are you being played by hundreds? Or by one?

Do in all great cities men exist
who tormented and in deep despair
would have sought the river but for you?
And why does your playing always reach me?

Why is it that I am always neighbour
to those lost ones who are forced to sing
and to say: Life is infinitely heavier
than the heaviness of all things.

The Song of the Beggar

I am always going from door to door,
whether in rain or heat,
and sometimes I will lay my right ear in
the palm of my right hand.
And as I speak my voice seems strange as if
it were alien to me,

for I'm not certain whose voice is crying:
mine or someone else's.
I cry for a pittance to sustain me.
The poets cry for more.

In the end I conceal my entire face
and cover both my eyes;
there it lies in my hands with all its weight
and looks as if at rest,
so no-one may think I had no place where-
upon to lay my head.


Rose, o pure contradiction,
desire to be no-one's sleep
under so many eyelids.

Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch,
Lust, niemandes Schlaf zu sein
unter soviel Lidern.

Rilke's self-composed epitaph is inscribed on his tombstone in Raron, Switzerland.
The above poems are from the excellent translations of Albert Ernest Flemming.

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