Apr 04 2012

Rainer Maria Rilke – Silent friend of many distances

Published by at 8:19 am under Poetry

Silent friend of many distances, feel
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

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


/ Photo by switon.michal /

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 has 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.






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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Rainer Maria Rilke – Silent friend of many distances”

  1. Larry Butleron 04 Apr 2012 at 11:38 am

    Greetings Ivan,
    I just want to thank you for this beautiful piece by Rilke and your thoughtful reflection. I have loved Rilke’s work since I was a very young man. Yes, it has been too long. Just thank you.
    Larry Butler

  2. chantal quincyon 04 Apr 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Very profound, reflective, and beautiful
    Thank You!

  3. Rachelon 04 Apr 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I love that he seems to be having an intimate conversation with all of humankind.

  4. Rachelon 04 Apr 2012 at 1:01 pm

    At the same time as I read it I feel that Rilke is communicating directly to me. He called me his friend. That felt so nice. I love Rilke. I love you Ivan!

  5. franon 04 Apr 2012 at 3:10 pm

    “Feel how your breathe enlarges all of space…” I feel important , necessary, needed, a host of synonyms for being loved and acknowledged could follow. Such a blessing after a long recent journey of hurt and fear. Reading it over a bit the word Trust comes to me throught the darkness. Trust that you are love, trust in being present, trust that you can voice yourself into acknowledgement/ existance….i am flowing….I am…..such a beautiful , integrated, relationship with Spirit. much thanks to you Ivan for helpful commentary!

  6. Pushpaon 04 Apr 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you Ivan.

    Marvelled by the thoughts put forward in the last line ‘I am’ and how these words link us to the opening lines, ‘feel how your breath enlarges all of space’ Makes me reflect on ‘So hum’ the very sound of breath that moves out and in. ‘So hum’ in Sankrit means ‘I am that’

    In very beautiful thought provocative lines Rainer seems to tell his audience to ‘Discover yourself’ Who am I?’

  7. Claraon 04 Apr 2012 at 9:14 pm

    … mesmerizing … thank you … elated to have found you …

  8. rena navonon 05 Apr 2012 at 2:55 am

    I couldn’t help but end the poem my own way: instead of speaking to the earth, I change the ending to– IF SHE DISREGARDS YOU, I AM HERE.
    My excuse for this reversal is that today is the day of my friend’s birthday. To celebrate tonight. I plan to deliver Rilke’s poem to him after dinner with this irreverent change.

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