October: Cotton Grass and the Landscapes of Enchantment 
(click on image to enlarge)
Cotton Grass Fall, the Alps "Words gently end at the edge /
    of the Unsayable . . .
And Music, ever new, out of the most /
   trembling of stones,
builds in unusable space its /
   deified house."

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

This week, an image called
Cotton Grass Pool.
Also: two new translations
from the German.

The guest poems for this week are two new English translations from the work of the German
language poet,
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:


O dieses ist das Tier, das es nicht giebt.
Sie wusstens nicht und habens jeden Falls
—sein Wandeln, seine Haltung, seinen Hals,
bis in des stillen Blickes Licht—geliebt.

Zwar war es nicht. Doch weil sie's liebten, ward
ein reines Tier. Sie ließen immer Raum.
Und in dem Raume, klar und ausgespart,
erhob es leicht sein Haupt und brauchte kaum

zu sein. Sie nährten es mit keinem Korn,
nur immer mit der Möglichkeit, es sei.
Und die gab solche Stärke an das Tier,

dass es aus sich ein Stirnhorn trieb. Ein Horn.
Zu einer Jungfrau kam es weiß herbei—
und war im Silber-Spiegel und in ihr.

O this is the creature that does not exist.
They knew nothing and yet without a doubt
—his gait, his posture, his neck, down
to the silent light of his gaze—they had loved.

Indeed, it wasn't real. But because they loved,
it became a pure animal. Always, they gave it space.
And in that space, clear and spare
it raised lightly its head and needed scarcely

to be. They nourished it not with grain,
but with only the possibility that it truly was.
And this gave such strength to the animal

that it grew a horn from its brow. But one horn.
It passed in its whiteness a young maiden—
and appeared in the silver mirror, and in her.


Alles Erworbene bedroht die Maschine, solange
sie auch erdreistet, im Geist, statt im Gehorchen, zu sein.
Daß nicht der herrlichen Hand schöneres Zörgen mehr prange,
zu dem entschlossenern Bau schneidet sie steifer den Stein.

Nirgends bleibt sie zurück, daß wir ihr ein Mal entrönnen
und sie in stiller Fabrik ölend sich selbe gehört.
Sie ist das Leben,—sie meint es am besten zu können,
die mit dem gleichen Entschluß ordnet und schafft und zerstört.

Aber noch ist uns das Dasein verzaubert; an hundert
Stellen ist noch Ursprung. Ein Spielen von reinen
Kräften, die keiner berührt, die nicht kniet und bewundert.

Worte gehen noch zart am Unsäglichen aus . . .
Und die Musik, immer neu, aus den bebendsten Steinen,
baut im unbrauchbaren Raum ihr vergöttlichtes Haus.


All achievement is threatened by the machine, as long
as it dares to take its place in the mind, instead of obeying.
That the master's hand no longer shines forth in fine lingerings,
now it cuts to the determined design more rigidly the stone.

Nowhere does it remain behind, that for once we might escape
as it oils and abides by itself in the silent factories.
It has become Life,—it thinks it can do everything best
and with like determination orders and creates and destroys.

And yet for us Being is still enchanted; on a hundred
planes is still origin. A play of pure energies
touched by no one who has not knelt down and is amazed.

Words gently end at the edge of the Unsayable . . .
And Music, ever new, out of the most trembling of stones,
builds in unusable space its deified house.

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Sonnets to Orpheu: X [SECOND PART] (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| Selected Sonnets to Orpheus twenty-two poems in the order they have been featured (text only) | PDF of Six Sonnets |
* Orpheus is the musician of musicians of classical Greek mythology. He is the one
whose magical art of the lyre has the power to charm the whole of Nature—the trees,
rivers, stones and even the wild animals, into the silence of listening. Son of Calliope,
the muse of epic poetry, and a Thracian river-god (in some versions of the story Apollo),
Orpheus married the nymph Eurydice who was fated to die of a serpent bite on her heel.
In his profound grief, Orpheus follows his beloved into the underworld, and with the
sound of his lyre enchants the resident deities into consenting to her release. The one
condition which Orpheus has to meet during the ascent back to the upperworld is that
he is not to look back at Eurydice. In a brief moment of weakness, he does, however,
look back, whereby Eurydice vanishes forever without a trace.

Rejecting all women in his sadness afterwards, Orpheus is later ripped to pieces by the
Maenads. This then is the source of the famous image of Orpheus' lyre and singing head,
floating off through empty space to the island of Lesbos.

| 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:

(41) September: Mountain Fall

(39) September: Clear Water 

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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Photograph/Texts of Translations © 1999 - 2001 Cliff Crego

X.7.2001) Comments to crego@picture-poems.com