August: Children, Mountains and the Poetry of Praise
(click on photo to enlarge)
Mountain Child, Before Summer Rain "Even when the world /
   swiftly changes,
as the form of clouds,
all things completed fall
back into the Primordial."

from the First Part
of the
Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image called Before
Mountain Rain
. Also: four new
translations from the German.

The guest poems for this week are a quartet of new English translations from the work of the German language 
Rainer Maria Rilke (from the Rilke website, a concise hyperlinked biography).

The Sonnets to Orpheus

Rilke wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus * at his modest chateau in Muzot, Switzerland, during a period
of intense activity in February of 1922. It was to be his last published work. The sequence of 55
poems, all sharing the same basic form and divided into two parts, is characterized by a marvelously
light and quick energy. Indeed, they seem filled with the exuberance of the mountains in which they
were composed, where everything seems larger than life, colors brighter and more radiant, and
streams faster and more clear.

This then is a poetry of praise, of the air I breathe, the meadow through which I walk, the beauty
of a single windflower opening to receive the morning sun, and yes, of praise itself:


Zwischen den Sternen, wie weit; und doch, um wievieles
    noch weiter,
was man am Hiesigen lernt.
Einer, zum Beispiel, ein Kind . . . Und ein Nächter, ein
o wie unfaßlich entfernt.

Sicksal, es mißt uns vielleicht mit des Seienden Spanne,
daß es uns fremd erscheint;
denk, wieviel Spannen allein von Mädchen zum Manne,
wenn es ihn meidet und meint.

Alles ist weit—, und nirgends schließt sich der Keis.
Sieh in der Schüssel, auf heiter bereitetem Tische,
seltsam der Fische Gesicht.

Fische sind stumm . . . , meinte man einmal. Wer weiß?
Aber ist nicht am Ende ein Ort, wo man das, was der Fische
Sprache wäre, ohne sie spricht?

Between the stars, how far; and yet, as one learns
    from that which is close,
between how many things still further.
One, for instance, a child . . . And next to it,
o how incomprehensibly far removed.

Fate, perhaps it measures us with spans of being
that appear to us strange;
Think of how many spans there are from girl to man,
when she both shuns and watches him.

Everything if far—, and nowhere does the circle close.
See the plate on the gaily prepared table,
how uncommon the fish's face.

Fish are mute . . . , one once thought. Who knows?
But in the end, is there not a place where one, what for
fish would be language, without them speaks?



Sollen wir unsere uralte Freundschaft, die großen
niemals werbenden Götter, weil sie der harte
Stahl, den wir streng erzogen, nicht kennt, verstoßen
oder sie plötlich suchen auf einer Karte?

Diese gewaltigen Freunde, die uns die Toten
nehmen, rühren nirgends an unsere Räder.
Unsere Gastmähler haben wir weit—, unsere Bäder,
fortgerückt, und ihre uns lang schon langsamen Boten

überholen wir immer. Einsamer nun auf einander
ganz angewiesen, ohne einander zu kennen,
führen wir nicht die Pfade als schöne Mäander,

sondern als Grade. Nur noch in Dampfkesseln brennen
die einstigen Feuer und heben die Hämmer, die immer
größern. Wir aber nehmen an Kraft ab, wie Schwimmer.

Shall we push aside our ancient friendship with
the great, never self-proclaiming gods, simply because
they do not know our strain in making hard steel large,
or shall we search for them suddenly on another map?

These massive friends, who take from us
our dead, but nowhere touch our wheels.
We keep our banquets at a distance—, our baths
have been far removed, and for years we've

overtaken their slow ships. Lonelier now, relying
wholly on, yet not knowing, one another,
we no longer guide our paths in graceful meanders,

but rather straight. Only in the massive boilers burn
the former fires and lift the hammers, the ever-greater
ones. We, however, grow weaker, like swimmers.


Wir sind die Treibenden.
Aber den Schritt der Zeit,
nehmt ihn als Kleinigkeit
im immer Bleibenden.

Alles das Eilende
wird schon vorüber sein;
denn das Verweilende
erst weiht uns ein.

Knaben, o werft den Mut
nicht in die Schnelligkeit,
nicht in den Flugversuch.

Alles ist ausgeruht:
Dunkel und Helligkeit,
Blume und Buch.

We are the driving ones.
But the march of Time
takes him as but a trifle
into the ever-permanent.

Everything which hurries
will soon be over;
for it is the lingering
that first initiates us.

Young boys, o put your mettle
not into the quick achievement,
not into the attempted flight.

Everything is now at rest:
Darkness and light,
blossom and book.


Wandelt sich rasch auch die Welt
wie Wolkengestalten,
alles Vollendete fällt
heim zum Uralten.

Über dem Wandel und Gang,
weiter und freier,
währt noch dein Vor-Gesang,
Gott mit der Leier.

Nicht sind die Leiden erkannt,
nicht ist die Liebe gelernt,
und was im Tod uns entfernt,

ist nicht entschleiert.
Einzig das Lied überm Land
heiligt und feiert.

Even when the world swiftly changes,
as the form of clouds,
all things completed fall
back into the Primordial.

Above stride and change,
further and freer,
your prelude endures,
god with a lyre.

Suffering has not been seen,
Love has not been learned,
and what removes us in Death,

has not been revealed.
Only the song over the land
hallows and rejoices.

See other recent additions of new English translations of Rilke's poetry, together with
featured photographs at:

(10) July: Lilies of Paradise and the Poetry of Praise

(9) June: Windflowers and the Poetry of Praise

| see also the Rilke Posters |

| listen to other recordings in English and German of twelve poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page
(# Includes instructions) |
See also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
a presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

| back to Picture/Poems: Central Display |
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Photographs and Texts © 2000 Cliff Crego
II.13.2000; Updated II.21.2000)