For your sake poets sequester themselves

by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
Original Language German

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone...
And painters paint their pictures only
that the world, so transient as you made it,
can be given back to you,
to last forever.

All becomes eternal. See: In the Mona Lisa
some woman has long since ripened like wine,
and the enduring feminine is held there
through all the ages.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.
They say, Stone, be forever!
And that means: be yours.

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour.
They kiss an expressionless mouth into a smile
as if creating it anew, more beautiful.

Awakening desire, they make a place
where pain can enter;
that's how growing happens.
They bring suffering along with their laughter,
and longings that had slept and now awaken
to weep in a stranger's arms.

They let the riddles pile up and then they die
the way animals die, without making sense of it.
But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen;
it's then that you will inherit the love
to which they gave themselves so blindly, as in a sleep.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.
Just as a fountain's higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

-- from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy

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/ Image by Kathleen Maher /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I thought this poem by Rilke would be a good follow-up to Friday's poem by Wendell Berry.

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone...


Poets and painters, each in their way are devotees, hermits, bringing what is within to birth in the world, always seeking something of the Eternal.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.


Even artists who reject classic ideas of beauty, form, structure, or balance are still seeking to express something resonant, a deeper truth, a forgotten honesty, a new awareness. Art is always concerned with the eternal. It is a holy endeavor.

And Rilke says that lovers are themselves artists, passionate seekers, creators...

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour...


It is as if the romantic lover catches a glimpse of the eternal in the smile of that cherished one. It is a fleeting sort of seeking, mixed with suffering, with unclear ends to the young lovers themselves, but with an evolving potential of new life and generationally expanding awareness.

But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen...


Rilke seems to say that each work of art, each moment of uncovered beauty, is inherently a mystical act.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.


The outer form and shape suggests something eternal and ideal behind it, yet, at the same time, is unable to contain it. The more we contemplate that elegant verse, that framed image, the blossoming smile on the lover's mouth, we witness the luminous fulness that inspired it.

Just as a fountain's higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.


That transcendent ideal, uncontained by line or word, overflows and returns back to the Eternal. If we have learned to pay attention, we too can follow.

The Mona Lisa is not a portrait of a woman who lived and died centuries ago. It is the embodiment of something more lasting than the painting itself. When we truly look, the Mona Lisa's smile whispers to us secrets of the Eternal.

All becomes eternal.



Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke's Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>





For your sake poets