July: Flower, unfolding . . .
(click on image to enlarge)
Prairie Lily, North America "Anxious, we long for something to hold,
we who are too much boy for what is old
and too old for what never was.

We, only true, where we nevertheless praise,
for we, oh, are but iron and branch
and great risk, sweet and ripening."

from Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image called
Flower, unfolding . . .
—N. America.
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).

Flower, unfolding . . .

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:


Nur im Raum der Rühmung darf die Klage
gehn, die Nymphe des geweinte Quells,
wachend über unserm Niederschlage,
daß er klar sei an demselben Fels,

der die Tore trägt und die Altäre.—
Sieh, um ihre stillen Schultern früht
das Gefühl, daß sie die jüngste wäre
unter den Geschwistern im Gemüt.

Jubel weiß, und Sehnsucht ist geständig,—
nur die Klage lernt noch; mädchenhändig
zählt sie nächtenlang das alte Schlimme.

Aber plötzlich, schräg und ungeübt,
hält sie doch ein Sternbild unserer Stimme
in den Himmel, den ihr Hauch nicht trübt.

Only in the fields of Praise may Complaint
go, the nymphs of the plaintive spring,
watching over our defeats,
that they would be clear on the same rock

that carries the arch and the altars.—
See, on her quiet shoulders dawns
the feeling that she was the youngest
among the siblings of sentiment.

Joy knows, and Longing remains constant,—
only Complaint still learns; with a girl's hands
she counts through the nights the old wrongs.

But then suddenly, unpracticed and askew,
she fetches a star-image of our voice
in the night sky, one that doesn't cloud her breath.



Rufe mich zu jener deiner Stunden,
die dir unaufhörlich widersteht:
flehend nah wie das Gesicht von Hunden,
aber immer wieder weggedreht,

wenn du meinst, sie endlich zu erfassen.
So Entzognes ist am meisten dein.
Wir sind frei. Wir wurden dort entlassen,
wo wir meinten, erst begrüßt zu sein.

Bang verlangen wir nach einem Halte,
wir zu Jungen manchmal für das Alte
und zu alt für das, was niemals war.

Wir, gerecht nur, wo wir dennoch preisen,
weil wir, ach, der Ast sind und das Eisen
und das Süße reifender Gefahr.

Call me to that one of your hours
that resists you without pause:
imploringly close as the faces of dogs,
but always yet again turning away

just as you think to have finally captured it.
So, that which withdraws is most your own.
We are free. We are most rejected there
where we thought we were first greeted.

Anxious, we long for something to hold,
we who are too much boy for what is old
and too old for what never was.

We, only true, where we nevertheless praise,
for we, oh, we are but iron and branch
and sweet and ripening great danger.

| listen to Sonnet XXIII [SECOND PART]... German / English one recording # |

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster
Sonnets to Orpheus:I (FIRST PART)
(86 K) |

There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O high tree of the ear.

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster:
Sonnet to Orpheus: XVIII [FIRST PART]
(86 K) | or download as PDF |

Do you hear the New, Lord,
rumbling and shaking?
Prophets are coming
who shall exalt it.

* 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.

| To view more of Cliff Crego's photos,
go to Picture/Poems Photoweek |

| 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:

(35) July: The Rhythms of Work in Poetry

(34) July: Moments Out of Time

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

VII.29.2001) (revised: VII.14.2002)