RILKE | April: The Music in Things
Braided Streams, the Alps "...inner worlds now
the most practiced /
   of distances, as
the other side of thin air:
no longer habitable."

from To Music, a poem
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image called
Braided Streams.
Also: three new translations
from the German.

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

The Music in Things

When we walk the wild places of the Earth, either on a hike of but an hour
or a journey of many days,
the rhythm of walking, of the breath, helps one
attune to the more subtle qualities of the life of the land. Many things are likely
to escape the city dweller at first. Like the movement of natural light over the
course of an entire day, the mysterious character discovered in the hidden
depths of shadows, the momentary flash of fast flowing water, or the crossing
of a long-awaited pass with a sudden view to the South. But there is also
the newness of natural sound to be encountered, for many of the present era,
perhaps for the first time. In the mountains, each sound—of water, of falling
rocks, of a calling animal—is surrounded by a marvelous sense of open space.

In the photograph above, with early morning sunlight bringing out the rich
texture of grazed alpine grasses, what is missing here is the sound of the
braided stream below. One hears with the morning updrafts a gentle high-
pitched wavelike sound which seems to turn around itself. And as one descends,
the sound of the swiftly flowing water grows gradually louder and louder
until, as we reach the stream itself, it rises up with a roar to encompass one's
whole being.

Similarly, when we enter poetic space our relationship to the words and
language we use everyday changes instantly. A mere minute of outward
time can hold an eternity in its weave and interplay of timbres,
carrying us away into new, unknown worlds.

Sound. Music. The music in things—
In the new translations of Rilke poems
I've brought together here, we encounter three distinctly different voices
which are both highly musical in presentation, but also refer to sonic imagery
as well as, in the last poem, music itself: in
Anxiousness, a kind of neutral
narrative voice reflecting upon the significance of a single event, the calling
of a bird, in an autumn forest; in
Lament, we hear the poet himself calling
out with great passion to the stars themselves. (In the German, Rilke makes
strikingly original ,irregular, leaps from rhyme to rhyme, the images thereby
transforming one into the other as if touched by a magic wand.); and lastly,
in the classic masterpiece,
To Music, we return to the narrative voice, but
now with much more philosophical, perhaps one could say, spiritual, depth.
Let's listen:


Im welken Walde ist ein Vogelruf,
der sinnlos scheint in diesem welken Walde.
Und dennoch ruht der runde Vogelruf
in dieser Weile, die ihn schuf,
breit wie ein Himmel auf dem welken Walde.
Gefügig räumt sich alles in den Schrei:
Das ganze Land scheint lautlos drin zu liegen,
der große Wind scheint sich hineinzuschmiegen,
und die Minute, welche weiter will,
ist bleich und still, als ob sie Dinge wüßte,
an denen jeder sterben müßte,
aus ihm herausgestiegen.

(c. 1903)

In the faded forest sounds the call of a bird,
which seems so meaningless in this faded forest.
And yet the resonant call of the bird rests
in this moment which brought it forth,
as wide as the heavens above the faded forest.
Docilely, everything empties itself into the cry:
The entire countryside seems silently there,
the immense wind seems nestled inside,
and the minute, that wishes to move on,
is ashen and quiet, as if it knew things
that, in order for them to rise out of him,
a man would first have to die.


O wie ist alles fern
und lange vergangen.
Ich glauben, der Stern,
von welchem ich Glanz empfangen,
ist seit Jahrtausenden tot.
Ich glaube, im Boot,
das vorüber führ,
hörte ich etwas banges sagen.
Im Hause hat eine Uhr
geschlagen . . .
In welchem Haus? . . .
Ich möchte aus meinem Herzen hinaus
unter den großen Himmel treten.
Ich möchten beten.
Und einer von allen Sternen
müßte wirklich noch sein.
Ich glaube, ich wüßte,
welcher allein
gedauert hat,—
welcher wie eine weiße Stadt
am Ende des Strahls in den Himmeln steht . . .

(c. 1903)

O How everything is so far away
and so long ago departed.
I believe that the star from which
I receive such glittering light
has been dead for thousands of years.
I believe that something
frightening was said
in the boat which just passed by.
In a house, a clock
has marked the hour . . .
In which house? . . .
I would like to leave my heart behind
and step out under the immense sky.
I would like to pray.
That one of all these stars
must certainly still exist.
I think I know
which one
has endured,—
which one, at the end of its heavenly ray,
stands like a city of white light . . .

| listen to a musical composition by Cliff Crego for Double Choirs of 24 fenale singers and
brass instruments, based on the English text of Lament; see also
Intro: Lament for Double Choir (REQUIRES QuickTime) |

An die Musik

Musik: Atem der Statuen. Vielleicht:
Stille der Bilder. Du Sprache wo Sprachen
enden. Du Zeit
die senkrecht steht auf der Richtung
vergehender Herzen.

Gefühle zu wem? O du der Gefühle
Wandlung in was?— in hörbare Landschaft.
Du Fremde: Musik. Du uns entwachsener
Herzraum. Innigstes unser,
das, uns übersteigend, hinausdrängt,—
heiliger Abschied:
da uns das Innre umsteht
als geübteste Ferne, als andre
Seite der Luft:
nicht mehr bewohnbar.

Rainer Maria Rilke

(c. 1918)
To Music

Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps:
The silence of pictures. Language where all
languages end. Time
standing straight up out of the direction
of hearts passing on.

Feeling, for whom?  O the transformation
of feeling into what?— into audible landscape.
Music: you stranger. Passion which
has outgrown us. Our inner most being,
transcending, driven out of us,—
holiest of departures:
inner worlds now
the most practiced of distances, as
the other side of thin air:
no longer habitable.

(all tr. Cliff Crego)


"Dollar Store" image + backside text Rilke Postcards .
Order 1 for under $1; order 100 for just $65. You might think of these as my special
student or big-city bookstore editions.Same images as the more expensive framed prints
above, but printed on tough 4" x 5 1/2 " 120 weight glossy cardstock that will last
a lifetime . . .

Order Rilke postcards
at . . .
[ image front / text back }

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Anxiousness (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| listen to a musical composition by Cliff Crego for Double Choirs of 24 fenale singers and
12 brass instruments, based on the English text of Lament; see also
Intro: Lament for Double Choir (REQUIRES QuickTime) |

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

(25) February: Images from the Periphery of Time (with recordings)

(24) February: Mountain Spring (with recordings)

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

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