Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
I can tell a storm by the way the trees
are whipping, compared to when quiet,
against my trembling windows, and
I hear from afar things whispering
I couldn't bear hearing without a friend
or love without a sister close by.
There moves the storm, the transforming one,
and runs through the woods and through the age,
changing it all to look ageless and young:
the landscape appears like the verse of a psalm,
so earnest, eternal, and strong.
How small is what we contend with and fight;
how great what contends with us;
if only we mirrored the moves of the things
and acquiesced to the force of the storm,
we, too, could be ageless and strong.
For what we can conquer is only the small,
and winning itself turns us into dwarfs;
but the everlasting and truly important
will never be conquered by us.
It is the angel who made himself known
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
for whenever he saw his opponents propose
to test their iron-clad muscle strength,
he touched them like strings of an instrument
and played their low-sounding chords.
Whoever submits to this angel,
whoever refuses to fight the fight,
comes out walking straight and great and upright,
and the hand once rigid and hard
shapes around as a gently curved guard.
No longer is winning a tempting bait.
One's progress is to be conquered, instead,
by the ever mightier one.
(Translated by Annemarie Kidder.)
In recent years many critics have come to admire Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 in Prague, Austria-Hungary – 29 December 1926 in Valmont (Switzerland)) as the German language's greatest poet of the 20th century. After he died of leukemia at the age of 51, the critical edition of his collected works in German eventually filled 12 volumes. Rilke grew up in an unhappy home, including a brief stint in a military academy. From very early he always knew that his life was meant for literature, poetry, and writing. His mother was zealously Catholic and outwardly pious, both of which backfired on Rilke who rejected such displays as "grotesque and meaningless." Instead, Rilke cultivated an "inward piety" that in his poetry explored the problems and possibilities of religious faith in an age of unbelief and personal anxiety. "A frequent theme," Annemarie Kidder remarks, "is the human heart's insatiable longing for the transcendent, the divine," which for Rilke expressed itself in religious proclivities that were decidedly unorthodox.
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org