Silent friend of many distances, feel

by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell
Original Language German

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face

grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

-- from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It's been too long since we had a poem by Rilke.

This is one to reread and savor, I think. Even before we let the meaning of the poem seep into the awareness, the imagery and language draws us into an open state, doesn't it? Lines like--

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.

Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night.

Move through transformation, out and in.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.


I basically reproduced two-thirds of the poem there, didn't I? That's always a sign of how enamored I am with a poem.

With all its beauty, this poem is a bit haunting. The poet keeps referring to night, to darkness. The spaciousness of night, its mystery, the limit of one's senses. Those final lines, puts us in the position of being a thing unknown ourselves. Something ghost-like here.

But this doesn't seem to me a poem of fear or loss, but of encounter. Reading these lines, I feel invited to participate in the great unknown mystery of existence, including my own existence. When we have come to feel trapped by a mundane, too familiar world, that's a sign that we have forgotten just how immense and terrifyingly beautiful reality is. We need to retrain our eyes to see the spaces between and the secrets behind. We need to remember what it is to be overwhelmed by our own being. And to this ungraspable, always changing world, we can still find it in ourselves to say: I am.



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 >>





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