December: Clear Water, Smooth Granite and the Flow of Compassion
(click on image to enlarge)
Glacier Water on Granite "...Whoever dies now somewhere /
   in the world,
without reason dies in the world:
looks at me."

from the The Book of Images,
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image of Glacier
Water on Granite.
Also: new
translations from the German.

The guest poem for this week is a new English translation from the work
of the German language  poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
(from the
Rilke website, a concise hyperlinked biography).

The Flow of Compassion

Pondering the photograph above, one thing which might be said about water in
flowing movement is that, like the air we breathe, it belongs to no one. Water is
truly in some sense
of the whole, and not of any isolated fragment thereof. We
may build dams in the course of its flow, we may pollute it, waste it, but we can
not in a fundamental way impede its timeless journey throughout the lifebody
of the Earth.

So, in a way, pondering water prepares the mind to consider the nature of natural
borders generally, and in this particular context, the borders—
real or imagined
which we sense or perceive between each other. Our theme is compassion. Compassion
in the sense that I see myself in the other, that the other's suffering is also in some,
inescapably profound sense, my own. This means that the borders between myself
and, say, the homeless man on the street, or a people ravaged by poverty and disease,
or yes, also the destruction of a watershed, are not as sharply drawn and as rigid as
we as a culture have come to assume.

The two poems I've brought together here from Rilke's
The Book of Images
(circa 1905) are both exceptional in this sense because they imply a new way of see-
ing the world in which these divisions are questioned. They point to something like
an incipient compassion in the sense I am using the word here. Without going into
the biographical considerations which Rilke scholars frequently cite in reference to
these works, especially the famous collection called The Voices: Nine Poems
with a Title Page
, from which I've included the signature piece, the point I would like
to bring out here is that the poet himself has become a kind of
sounding board for the
voices of others. How different this is from the generally exceedingly narrow scope
of much English poetry of the current era. And this, despite the fact that these pieces
are now almost 100 years old, makes them in my view as challenging and as relevant
today as the moment they were first composed:

Ernste Stunde

Wer jetzt weint irgendwo in der Welt,
ohne Grund weint in der Welt,
weint über mich.

Wer jetzt lacht irgendwo in der Nacht,
ohne Grund lacht in der Nacht,
lacht mich aus.

Wer jetzt geht irgendwo in der Welt,
ohne Grund geht in de Welt,
geht zu mir.

Wer jetzt stirbt irgendwo in der Welt,
ohne Grund stirbt in der Welt:
sieht mich an.
Solemn Hour

Whoever cries now somewhere in the world,
without reason cries in the world,
cries about me.

Whoever laughs now somewhere in the night,
without reason laughs in the night,
laughs at me.

Whoever goes now somewhere in the world,
without reason goes in the world,
comes to me.

Whoever dies now somewhere in the world,
without reason dies in the world:
looks at me.


Die Reichen und Glücklichen haben gut schweigen,
niemand will wissen, was sie sind.
Aber die Dürftigen müßen sich zeigen,
müßen sagen: ich bin blind,
oder: ich bin im Begriff es zu werden
oder: es geht mir nicht gut auf Erden,
oder: ich habe ein krankes Kind,
oder: da bin ich zusammengefügt . . .

Und vielleicht, daß das gar nicht genügt.

Und weil alle sonst, wie an Dingen,
an ihen vorbeigehen, müßen sie singen.

Und da hört man noch guten Gesang.

Freilich die Menchen sind seltsam; sie hören
lieber Kastraten in Knabenchören.

Aber Gott selber kommt und bleibt lang,
wenn ihn diese Beschnittenen stören.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Title Page

It's easy for the rich and fortunate to remain silent,
nobody wants to know who they are.
That is why the destitute must show themselves,
must say: I am blind,
or: that is what I'm about to become,
or: it's not going very well with me here on Earth,
or: I have a sick child,
or: this is where I'm kind of all stuck together . . .

And perhaps even that is not enough.

Despite everything, as if they were things,
people walk right by, and so they must sing.

And one hears good music there.

Truly, people are strange; They'd
rather hear castrati in boys' choirs.

But God himself comes and remains a long time
when these disfigured ones begin to disturb him.

    (all tr. Cliff Crego)

| go to the whole of The Voices: Nine Poems
with a Title Page
, translated by Cliff Crego |

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Solemn Hour (86 K) |

| 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 also other recent additions of new English translations of
Rilke's poetry, together with
featured photographs at:

(19) November: More Figures from Interior Space

(18) November: Figures from Interior Space

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 © 2000-2002 Cliff Crego

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