Mar 24 2023

Rainer Maria Rilke – I live my life in widening circles

Published by at 7:52 am under Poetry

I live my life in widening circles
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?


/ Image by GPS /

I don’t normally pay much attention to website statistics, but a few days ago I received a notice that one page on the Poetry Chaikhana website was spiking — the page with this poem by Rilke. That always gets me wondering, why the sudden interest in this poem? Is this poem part of a school curriculum and all the students decided to Google the same poem at once? Was this poem featured somewhere, on a radio program maybe, and all of the listeners wanted to look it up online? Another mystery of the Poetry Chaikhana…

But, when I went to my website and reread the poem myself, I thought, Ooh, this is good. I should share it again with everyone. So here you go, thanks to the mysterious actions of the world wide web…

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world…

I circle around God, that primordial tower.

These images of circles and circling, revolving around a great center he names God, it makes me think of the cathedral labyrinths of Europe. Or the ancient spiral glyphs carved into rocks and cave faces. I see the circling pathway around some secret center. The road can be bewildering, twisting and turning, keeping us disoriented and uncertain of how near we are, but ever moving inward.

And that courageous line–

I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

We walk the winding path, not out of certainty, but because it is the only path worth walking. Walking that road, quietly, with attention, one foot in front of the other, becomes meditation. It becomes worship. Each ring, whether near or far, is a layer of our lives that is blessed by our passing through it.

Walking the circling path is not only the way to the center, it is actually part of the center. We learn to participate in the center by first walking the path. Obsession with the destination becomes an impediment to reaching it. Instead, by patiently inhabiting each step, we discover the center in ourselves… and then our feet naturally end up there.

We walk with our whole selves–

but I give myself to it…

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

On this roundabout road to God, we question our own nature. We encounter the mystery of self. Who and what are we really? Ultimately, it is in that questioning of a self that eludes definition where we find the still center.


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
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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Rainer Maria Rilke – I live my life in widening circles”

  1. Debapriyaon 24 Mar 2023 at 9:57 am

    Hey! I recently subscribed to your poetry blog after reading this poem. I received an email about this poem today, and there you were curious, why did this poem garnered so much attention all of a sudden recently. I came across this poem, because one of the BTS member, Jimin, who released his new solo song named “Set Me Free Pt 2”. In that music video he had this entire poem written on his chest, the original one in German. We, the fans of him, were curious and came across this poem. Our fandom is quite large, so a lot of people came here to read this poem because of Jimin. I guess that’s reason of it getting so much attention. Enough about Jimin. I would like to say that I really really loved how you interpreted this poem. I never knew I needed to hear the words about us being obsessed with the destination until today. I really appreciate it. Thanks a lot for those beautiful emails. I’m sorry if this comment is unnecessarily large, and is about something else and not this poem. 😀

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 25 Mar 2023 at 9:51 am

    Thanks so much for telling me about that. Someone else emailed me about the Jimin video, as well. For anyone else who is curious, here is a link to the video: https://youtu.be/UaywgAqcLxI Amazing dancing!

    Ivan

  3. Peggy Fanningon 24 Mar 2023 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, Ivanfor sharing your insights. The labyrinths are the roads and days of life by walking the journey, I discover the beauty, depth, and Mystery of life, others, and God.

  4. Peggy Fanningon 24 Mar 2023 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, Ivanfor sharing your insights. The labyrinths are the roads and days of life by walking the journey, I discover the beauty, depth, and Mystery of life, others, and God.

  5. Shernaz Wadiaon 24 Mar 2023 at 9:52 pm

    Dear Ivan,

    Today’s poem – I live my life in widening circles
    by Rainer Maria Rilke – brought to mind a poem I had written in 2009.

    It is unbelievable, but here it is:

    I Walked

    I walked, stopped,
    walked and stopped again,
    looked back, looked ahead,
    hesitated, moved on once more
    till I reached someplace
    with paths radiating all around
    I whirled and twirled
    then chose the shortest path
    but it ran on endlessly, so
    I abandoned it on a whim
    took a left into nowhere,
    and strangely found a track
    under my weary feet

    surprise! surprise!
    it brought me back
    to where I had started out!
    so in the opposite direction now
    I walked, ran, skipped, trudged;
    was fed up soon, wanted change –
    shun this route and turn right
    and thus I went from path to path…
    yet, every distinct route I took
    in some mysterious way landed me
    in the circle I kept moving away from
    my inescapable Self its center point

  6. Carolon 25 Mar 2023 at 2:24 am

    Oh Ivan, thank you for this poem by Rilke – he so beautifully describes the processes
    of our lives and as always your commentary helps us understand. I needed this poem
    now and will share with a friend. Peace and Every Good, Carol

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