RILKE | April: A Light too Bright to Bear...
Spring Alpine Moor "...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
Spring Snow, Alpine Moor.
Also: two new translations
from the German.

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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).

A Light too Bright to Bear, or the
Patience of Mountain Trees

...that carry the weight of a hundred
workdays in the overfilled fruits,
serving, full of patience, trying, like

that which all measure transcends,
is still to be lifted up and offered,
when one willingly, throughout a long life,
wants but this one thing and grows and is silent.

from: New Poems, the other Part. The Apple Orchard

The photo above was made around the end of March at the very center
of the German-speaking part of the European Alps. There are many things
here that I might want to call attention to: like the dynamic quality of the
snowpack at this time of year—frozen solid in the early morning hours.
(While making the photo, I was walking effortlessly with skis tied to my
backpack.) And then turning hopelessly slushy an hour or two before noon.
Or one might mention the intense brilliance of the spring mountain sunlight;
Or perhaps the beautiful alpine moor which lies dormant six feet below
the snow's surface.

But most especially I'm moved by a single subtle detail—those little trees in
the foreground. They're dwarf mountain pines (
Pinus mugo) growing right at
treelimit. I've passed these trees on treks hundreds of times and have come to
see them as sentinels of the higher, treeless alpine country pictured in the
background. I have also come to greatly admire their soft-spoken tenacity
in standing their ground in what most would call inhospitable country.
After all, they're completely snowbound for as much as five or six months
of the year.

Journeying through the picture or the image in this way creates a kind
of background for the two new Rilke translations I've brought together
here. One, the
Early Apollo, from the beginning of the New Poems
c. 1906), reveals a voice which is full of confidence and a remarkale
energy. And, of course, it's also full of the striking imagery which is so
characteristic ot the Rilke of this middle or Paris period. Here, we have
the idea of the poetry made by a god, standing before us like a mountain
of white light, which is almost too pure, too powerful, to bare.

The second poem, from the first part of the
Sonnets to Orpheus (1922),
composed some 16 years later, shows a much more feminine, almost playful,
aspect of Rilke's work. This is the piece which Rilke sent to friends, written
out longhand, with the instructions to paste it over the original 21st sonnet
in the collection which had just been published.

Instead of the flashing brilliance of the mountain god, the sonnet speaks
to us of the patience of beings that have endured long, harsh, winters,
and then, like the humble pines of the highcountry pictured above, offer us
their art in the manner in which that young mothers are sometimes heard
to sing to their children:

O, what her teacher taught her, such plenitude,
  and that which is pressed into roots and long
  heavy, twisted trunks: she sings, she sings!

Let's listen:

Früher Apollo

Wie manches Mal durch das noch unbelaubte
Gezweig ein Morgen durchsieht, der schon ganz
im Frühling ist: so ist in seinem Haupte
nichts, was verhindern könnte, das der Glanz

aller Gedichte uns fast tödlich träfe;
denn noch kein Schatten ist in seinem Schaun,
zu kühl für Lorbeer sind noch seine Schläfe,
und später erst wird aus den Augenbraun

hochstämmig sich der Rosengarten heben,
aus welchem Blätter, einzeln, ausgelöst
hintreiben werden auf des Mundes Beben,

der jetzt noch still ist, niegebraucht und blinkend
und nur mit seinem Lächeln etwas trinkend,
als würde ihm sein Singen eingeflößt.

Neuen Gedichte

(7.VII.1906, Paris)
Early Apollo

As when sometimes through the still leafless
branches a morning appears that is already
wholly spring: so there is in his face
nothing that could keep the radiance

of all poetry from mortally striking us.
for there are not yet shadows in his looking,
too cool for laurel are yet his temples,
and only later, from the brown of the eyes,

will the high-stemmed rose garden ascend,
out of which leaves, solitary, stirring,
driving themselves upon the trembling mouth,

that is yet still, not yet used and flashing,
and drinking only with his smile,
as if his singing were whispered in his ear.

New Poems

(VII.7.1906, Paris)


Frühling ist wiedergekommen. Die Erde
ist wie ein Kind, daß Gedichte weiß,
viele, o viele . . . . Für die Beschwerde
langen Lernens bekommt sie den Preis.

Streng war ihr Lehrer. Wir mochten das Weiße
an dem Barte des alten Manns.
Nun, wie das Grüne, das Blaue heiße,
dürfen wir fragen: sie kanns, sie kanns!

Erde, die Frei hat, du glückliche, spiele
nun mit den Kindern. Wir wollen dich fangen,
fröhliche Erde. Dem Frohsten gelingts.

O, was der Lehrer sie lehrte, das Viele,
und was gedruckt steht in Wurzeln und langen
schwierigen Stämmen: sie singts, sie singts!

aus: Sonetten an Orpheus
Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring has again returned. The Earth
is like a child that knows many poems,
many, o so many . . . . For the hardship
of such long learning she receives the prize.

Strict was her teacher. The white
in the old man's beard pleases us.
Now, what to call green, to call blue,
we dare to ask: she knows, she knows!

Earth, now free, you happy one, play 
with the children. We want to catch you,
joyful Earth. Only the most joyful can do it.

O, what her teacher taught her, such plenitude,
and that which is pressed into roots and long
heavy, twisted trunks: she sings, she sings!

from: Sonnets to Orpheus
(tr. Cliff Crego)

for $49.95 + shipping or
download as e-Book for $14.95

New English translations
from the German of 80
of Rainer Maria Rilke's
best poems, together
with 120 color prints
from the High Wallowas.
With introduction . . .

| preview opens in new window |


| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Sonnets to Orpheus XXI (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| 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:

(27) March: The Time in Stones

March: The Music in Things

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stream if you'd like timely updates

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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