July: Lilies of Paradise and the Poetry of Praise
(click on photo to enlarge)
Paradise Lilies in Heather "True singing is different kind of breath.
A breath around nothing. /
A sigh in a god. A wind....

from the First
of the
to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image of Paradise
. Also: four new translations
from the German.

The guest poems for this week are a quartet of 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:


Rühmen, das ists! Ein zum Rühmen Bestellter,
ging er hervor wie das Erz aus des Steins
Schweigen. Sein Herz, o vergängliche Kelter
eines den Menschen unendlichen Weins.

Nie versagt ihm die Stimme am Staube,
wenn ihn das göttliche Beispiel ergreift.
Alles wird Weinberg, alles wird Traube,
in seinem fühlenden Süden gereift.

Nicht in den Grüften der Könige Moder
straft ihm die Rühmung lügen, oder
daß von den Göttern ein Schatten fällt.

Er ist einer der bleibenden Boten,
der noch weit in die Türen der Toten
Schalen mit rühmlichen Früchten hält.

Praise, that's it! As one who is called to praise
he rose up like an ore out of the stone's
silence. His heart, o mortal press,
one of humanity's inexhaustible wines.

Never does his voice give way to dust
when he is grasped by divine example.
Everything is vineyard, everything is grape,
ripened in the sentiment of his south.

Not in the tombs of kingly decay
is he punished by Praise for falsity, or
in that from gods a shadow falls.

He is one of the permanent messengers
who deep within the doors of the dead
holds up bowls filled with glorious fruits.


Errichtet keinen Denkstein. Laßt die Rose
nur jedes Jahr zu seinen Gunsten blühn.
Denn Orpheus ists. Seine Metamorphose
in dem und dem. Wir sollen uns nicht mühn

um andre Namen. Ein für alle Male
ists Orpheus, wenn es singt. Er kommt und geht.
Ists nicht schon viel, wenn er die Rosenschale
um ein paat Tage manchmal übersteht?

O wie er schwinden muß, daß ihrs begrifft!
Und wenn ihm selbst auch bangte, daß schwände.
Indem sein Wort das Hiersein überstrifft,

ist er schon dort, wohin ihrs nicht begleitet.
Der Leier Gitter zwängt ihm nicht die Hände.
Und er gehorcht, indem er überschreitet.

Erect no monument. Let but the rose
flower each year on his behalf.
For Orpheus is. His metamorphosis
is in all things. We should not burden

ourselves with other names. Now and forever
Orpheus is when there is song. He comes and goes.
Isn't it already enough when he outlasts
the bowl of roses but by a few days?

O how he must disappear, so that you may understand!
Even when he himself worries about disappearing.
In that his word the present moment transcends,

he is already there, where you are not accompanied.
The lyre's lattice doesn't force his hands.
And he obeys, in that he transgresses.


Heil dem Geist, der uns verbinden mag;
denn wir leben wahrhaft in Figuren.
Und mit kleinen Schritten gehn die Uhren
neben unserm eigenlichen Tag.

Ohne unsern wahren Platz zu kennen,
handeln wir aus wirklichen Bezug.
Die Antennen fühlen die Antennen,
und die leere Ferne trug . . .

Reine Spannung. O Musik der Kräfte!
Ist nicht durch die läßlichen Geschäfte
jede Störung von dir abgelenkt?

Selbst wenn sich der Bauer sorgt und handelt,
wo die Saat in Sommer sich verwandelt,
reicht er niemals hin. Die Erde schenkt.

Hail to the spirit that would connect us;
in that we live truly in figures.
And with small steps pass the hours
beside our authentic day.

Without knowing our true place,
we are moved to action by real relation.
Antennae feel antennae,
carried by empty distance . . .

Pure tension. O Music of powers!
Is not through this venial industry
every disturbance deflected from you?

Even when the farmer cares and toils,
to that place where the seed itself transforms,
he does not reach. The Earth bestows.


Ein Gott vemags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
ein Mann ihm folgen durch die schmale Leier?
Sein Sinn ist Zweispalt. An der Kreuzung zweier
Herzwege steht kein Tempel für Apoll.

Gesang, wie du ihn lehrst, ist nicht Begehr,
nicht Werbung um ein endlich noch erreichtes;
Gesang ist Dasein. Für den Gott ein Leichtes.
Wann aber sind wir? Und wann wendet er

an unser Sein die Erde und diem Sterne?
Dies ists nicht, Jüngling, daß du liebst, wenn auch
die Stimme dann den Mund dir aufstößt,—lerne

vergessen, daß du aufsangst. Das verrint.
In Wahrheit singen, ist ein andrer Hauch.
Ein Hauch um nichts. Ein Wehn im Gott. Ein wind.

A god can do it. But how, tell me, shall
a man follow him through the narrow lyre?
His senses are split. At the crossing of two
heartways stands no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you teach him, is not desire,
not the touting of some final achievement;
Song is Being. Easy for a god.
But when are we to be? And when does he turn

towards our existence the Earth and the Stars?
This is nothing, young one, that you love, when
the voice pushes the mouth open,—glearn

to forget such murmurings. They will pass.
True singing is different kind of breath.
A breath around nothing. A sigh in a god. A wind.


| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Sonnet to Orpheus: XVIII [FIRST 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:

(9) June: Windflowers and the Poetry of Praise

(8) June: The Poetry of Images of Movement

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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