August: The Gentian and the Poetry of Light and Darkness
(click on photo to enlarge)
Purple Gentian, The Alps "We are involved with flower, grapeleaf, fruit.
They speak not just the language of the year.
Out of the darkness rises colorful revelation,
having perhaps the shine on it of the jealousy

of the dead, who strengthen the earth.
What do we know of the part they play?"

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

This week, an image of Twin Flowers:
Purple Gentian
Also: new translations
from the German.

The guest poems for this week are 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:


Wir gehen um mit Blume, Weinblatt, Frucht.
Sie sprechen nicht die Spache nur des Jahres.
Aus Dunkel steigt ein buntes Offenbares
und hat vielleicht den Glanz der Eifersucht

der Toten an sich, die die Erde stärken.
Was wissen wir von ihrem Teil an dem?
Es ist seit lange ihre Art, den Lehm
mit ihrem freien Marke zu durchmärken.

Nun fragt sich nur: tun sie es gern? . . .
Drängt diese Frucht, ein Werk von schweren Sklaven,
geballt zu uns empor, zu ihren Herrn?

Sind sie die Herrn, die bei den Wurzeln schlafen,
und gönnen uns aus ihren überflüssen
dies Zwischending aus stummer Kraft und Küssen.

We are involved with flower, grapeleaf, fruit.
They speak not just the language of the year.
Out of the darkness rises colorful revelation,
having perhaps the shine on it of the jealousy

of the dead, who strengthen the earth.
What do we know of the part they play?
It has always been their nature, with their
free marrow, to invigorate the clay.

But still we ask: do they enjoy doing it? . . .
Does this fruit, the work of heavy slaves,
fortified, press up to us, to their Masters?

Or are they the Masters, those who sleep with roots
and grant us out of their superabundance
this hybrid thing made of mute energy and kisses.


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 ones, 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.


Nur wer die Leier schon hob
auch unter Schatten
darf das unendliche Lob
ahnend erstatten.

Nur wer mit Toten vom Mohn
aß, von dem ihren,
wird nicht den leisesten Ton
wieder verlieren.

Mag auch die Spieglung im Teich
oft uns verschwimmen:
Wisse das Bild.

Erst in dem Doppelbereich
werden die Stimmen
ewig und mild.

Only he who has lifted his lyre
also among the shadows
may his boundless praise
possibly repay.

Only he who has eaten poppies
with the dead,
will never again lose even
the softest of sounds.

Though the pool's reflection
often blurrs before us:
Know the image.

First in the double world
do voices become
eternal and mild.

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

| 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:

(12) August: Water, Granite and the Poetry of Change

(11) August: Children, Mountains and the Poetry of Praise

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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