Rainer Maria Rilke

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Rainer Maria Rilke in 1913

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a lyrical poet from Austria-Hungary, writing in German and French, and internationally famous for the Duino Elegies, the Sonnets to Orpheus and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, among other works. He wrote both verse and highly lyrical prose, and critics have several times described his work as "mystical".

Example of a poem: The Panther

Der Panther

Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäbe keine Welt.
Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich in allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.
Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

Rainer Maria Rilke


The Panther (In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris)

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him that there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tense, arrested muscles,
plungs into the heart and is gone.

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell