Feb 05 2021

Rainer Maria Rilke – Want the change

Published by at 9:21 am under Poetry

Want the change
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

— from In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy

/ Image by Lulu Lovering /

This poem is a lovely meditation on change and transitoriness — as signs of life. It is only those relationships and experiences which move, and evolve, and eventually disappear that are fully alive.

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.

We so want the opposite to be true. We reflexively want to grasp the world, to hold it fixed, so we can trust reality, know its rules, and feel secure every day. But Rilke invites us to see with the poet’s keen eye the truth of the matter: that which doesn’t change lacks life and loses beauty–

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

We can’t hold our lives fixed, and we can’t hold ourselves fixed within our lives. The only thing to do is to step fully into each mysterious unknown day.

I love the line–

Pour yourself out like a fountain.

This statement so powerfully evokes the courage each day requires and the generosity of self that we can bring to each encounter.

We give of ourselves not to secure our lives but to live our lives in fullness. And, in doing so, we discover more life in our lives.

Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

If you’re not a mythology nerd, you may not have picked up on Rilke’s reference to Daphne and the laurel…

And Daphne, becoming
a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

In Greek mythology, Daphne was a stunningly beautiful nymph who lived and hunted in the woods. Because of her beauty men constantly sought her favors, but she refused everyone. Then the god Apollo fell in love with her, but she refused him as well. Daphne fled from Apollo, who continued to pursue her. When Apollo was about to grasp Daphne, she called upon her father’s magical power, and she was instantly transformed into a laurel tree. The god Apollo, still in love with Daphne, but unable to embrace her, plucked a branch of the laurel and wore it as a wreath upon his head.

By evoking Daphne, Rilke is calling up this rich myth of beauty, and the inability to posses it. Yet that beauty, in transforming itself into something that can no longer be truly held or lusted after, takes on a new life all its own, a life that yet dances in the wind.

Rilke seems to be inviting us to encounter life with full presence and, with the courage of a witness rather than one who grasps, to appreciate beauty both in the coming and goings of life.

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 >>

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke

Share this page ~

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Rainer Maria Rilke – Want the change”

  1. ANGUS LANDMANon 05 Feb 2021 at 10:16 am

    What a beautiful poem and reflection. Thank you.
    Here is my echo…which you might enjoy. Ayaz

    Flow Flowering

    Like the Spring
    Is impossible to stop
    Green shoots
    Through everything

    You see
    Source is always
    More powerful than

    Wisdom is the knowing
    Of this

    And so it is
    When flow and wisdom
    We have the wise flow
    Of a Holy Communion
    21 01 2021

  2. Odo Mayeron 05 Feb 2021 at 11:57 am

    the depths and beauty of Rilke’s poems never ceases to amaze me.
    Several of his insights look like inspired by the early christian “gospel of THOMAS”, which Rilke could not have read because it was dug out in Egypt only in 1947.
    (18) The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us how our end will be.”
    Jesus said, “Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death.” http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html
    Like Thomas (in logion 13) Rilke is also one who really has drunk and become intoxicated by the highest truth, contained in 3 Words “tat twam asi =
    Thomas said to Jesus, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.”
    Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out.”
    then, of course, Rilke’s poem reminds us also of a classic among most eternal travellers,
    Hermann Hesses’ Stufengedicht =
    “As every blossom fades
    and all youth sinks into old age,
    so every life’s design, each flower of wisdom,
    attains its prime and cannot last forever.
    The heart must submit itself courageously
    to life’s call without a hint of grief,
    A magic dwells in each beginning,
    protecting us, telling us how to live.

    High purposed we shall traverse realm on realm,
    cleaving to none as to a home,
    the world of spirit wishes not to fetter us
    but raise us higher, step by step.
    Scarce in some safe accustomed sphere of life
    have we establish a house, then we grow lax;
    only he who is ready to journey forth
    can throw old habits off.

    Maybe death’s hour too will send us out new-born
    towards undreamed-lands,
    maybe life’s call to us will never find an end
    Courage my heart, take leave and fare thee well.”

  3. Christineon 05 Feb 2021 at 1:02 pm

    So profound, and powerful… and timely: “live our lives *in* fullness” – “a life that dances in the wind” – “stepping fully into the unknown.”

    I recently got this phrase in meditation: “Don’t just think about ‘filling the time’, but ‘fulfilling your time here’. And then I read your message here… confirmation!

  4. Anna M.on 06 Feb 2021 at 7:16 am

    Hi Ivan,

    How easy and pleasant was the time to read Rilke’s beautiful poetry and many, many others, and about Krishnamurti’s Pathless Path, when we all lived, or at least we thought it was so, in the comfort zone….
    ehhhhhhhh, this time will never return back!

    Your reminder of the Greek myth about Daphne and Apollo, reminded me how great fan I was in my teenagers years with the Old Greek legends and mythology. Even still have e big book in my home library about them.

    Remember also the famous painting of Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan” after another Greek myth as well many other artists and paintings from the time of the Renaissance? What it does talk to you?

    But now I have completely different understanding, intuition and inner perception about so called Greek ‘gods’, especially after so many contemporary archaeological, scientific and technological discoveries and revelations about the true history of the human race, but this is another theme….

    In these transistorises times, Now, we all are walking on the razor-edge…It is a fact and no doubts!

    Want or don’t want, change is happening…for all living creatures, for Earth, Solar system, for Galaxies and the whole Multiverse…

    Why and how it is happening and where we all are going to…may be to another dream…

    As Edgar Alan Poe said:

    ” All that we see or seem
    is but a dream within a dream”

    Once I was walking at the sidewalk, near my block, and suddenly the building from my right side, began literally to dissolve in a white fog, like lego toys and then reassembled again…just for milliseconds…in front of my physical eyes…I was shocked and stopped for a while, unable to believe, but other people continued to walk and nobody haven’t noticed anything…

    Do you felt in latest days the smell of ‘death’ in the air, another shift happened, because the whole solid, illusion reality is crashing, dissolving, disappear in front of our eyes along with all our beliefs ?

    I wrote about this some time ago in a post, but now it is really happening both on individually and collective level…and many other phenomena…

    Our perceptions of reality as well of ourselves is dramatically changes…

    Someone said, this all whole reality is a code in a giant hologram, that our 5 senses decode as real and solid and truth and soon or later humans will discover the true nature of “God”/Source as a Holographic Source…

    Many famous scientists, including Einstein at his time, from long time was working and talking and gave hints about this…

    I so much resonate of Hermann Hesses’ Stufengedicht, that Odo Mayer have posted here, never have read it…Thanks!

    “Courage my heart, take leave and fare thee well”

    May we all open the window of our minds for the fresh air, new ideas and new truths IN…

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply