June: Windflowers and the Poetry of Praise
(click on photo to enlarge)
Windflowers in Alpine Heather "Breathing, you invisible poem!
Ceaselessly going round your own
Being pure exchanged worldspace. /
in which I rhythmically reclame myself...

from the Second
of the
to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image of Alpine
. Also: four new translations
from the German.

The guest poems for this week are a quartet of new English translations from the work of the German language 
Rainer Maria Rilke (from the Rilke website, a concise hyperlinked biography).

The Sonnets to Orpheus

Rilke wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus * at his modest chateau in Muzot, Switzerland, during a period
of intense activity in February of 1922. It was to be his last published work. The sequence of 55
poems, all sharing the same basic form and divided into two parts, is characterized by a marvelously
light and quick energy. Indeed, they seem filled with the exuberance of the mountains in which they
were composed, where everything seems larger than life, colors brighter and more radiant, and
streams faster and more clear.

This then is a poetry of praise, of the air I breathe, the meadow through which I walk, the beauty
of a single windflower opening to receive the morning sun, and yes, of praise itself:


Atmen, du unsichtbares Gedicht!
Immerfort um das eigene
Sein rein eingetauschter Weltraum. Gegengewicht,
in dem ich mich rhythmisch ereigne.

Einzige Welle, deren
allmähliches Meer ich bin;
sparsamstes du von allen möglichen Meeren,—

Wieviele von diesen Stellen der Räume/
   waren schon
innen in mir. Manche Winde
sind wie mein Sohn.

Erkennst du mich, Luft, du, voll noch/
   einst meiniger Orte?
Du, einmal glatte Rinde,
Rundung und blatt meiner Worte.

Breathing, you invisible poem!
Ceaselessly going round your own
Being pure exchanged worldspace. Counterpoise,
in which I rhythmically reclaim myself.

Solitary waves, whose
gradual sea I am;
you the sparest of all possible seas,—
space rewon.

How many of the these regions of space/
   have already
been inside of me. Many winds
are as if they were my son.

Do you recognize me, air, full of places/
   once my own?
You, once smooth rind,
curve and leaf of my words.


Siehe die Blumen, diese dem Irdischen treuen,
denen wir Schicksal vom Rande des Schicksals leihn,—
aber wer weiß es! Wenn sie ihr Welken bereuen,
ist es an uns, ihre Reue zu sein.

Alles will schweben. Da gehn wir umher wie/
legen auf alles uns selbst, von Gewichte entzückt;
o was sind wir den Dingen für zehrende Lehrer,
weil ihnen ewige Kindheit glückt.

Nähme sie einer ins innige Schlafen und schliefe
tief mit den Dingen—: o wie käme er leicht,
anders zum anderen Tag, aus der gemeinsamen Tiefe.

Oder er bliebe vielleicht; und sie blühten und priesen
ihn, den Bekehrten, der nun den Ihrigen gleicht,
allen den stillen Geschwistern im Winde der Wiesen.

See the flowers, they who are true to the earthly,
to whom we lend Fate from Fate's edge,—
but who knows! when they their faded ones repent,
is it left to us, to be the repenter for them.

Everything wants to float. We go about like weights,
laying ourselves on everything, from heaviness/
o what exhausting teachers we are for the things,
for they achieve eternal childhood.

If they were to take one in inner slumber and sleep
deeply with things—: o how he would become light,
different to a different day, out of the common depths.

Or he would remain perhaps; as they flowered and praised
him, the converted one, who now is their equal,
silent siblings all among the winds of the meadows.


Blumenmuskel, der der Anemone
Wiesenmorgen nach and nach erschließt,
bis in ihren Schooß das polyphone
Licht der lauten Himmel sich ergießt,

in den stillen Blütenstern gespannter
Muskel des unendlichen Emphangs,
manchmal so von Fülle übermannter,
daß der Ruhewink des Untergangs

kaum vermag die weiterzurückgeschnellten
Blätterränder dir zurückzugeben:
du, Entschluß und Kraft von wieviel Welten!

Wir, Gewaltsamen, wir währen länger.
Aber wann, in welchem aller Leben.
sind wir endenlich offen und Empfänger?

Flower-muscle, that the windflower
morning meadow gradually encloses,
till the polyphonic light of the shrill
heavens pours into its womb,

in the outstretched muscle of the quiet
flower-star of infinite reception,
many times so overpowered with fullness,
that the moment's rest before darkness

can hardly return to you the once
again hastened back edges of leaves:
you, resolution and power of how many worlds!

We, the violent ones, we last longer.
But when, in which of all lives,
are we finally open and receivers.


Nur im Raum der Rühmung darf die Klage
gehn, die Nymphe des geweinte Quells,
wachend über unserm Niederschlage,
daß er klar sei an demselben Fels,

der die Tore trägt und die Altäre.—
Sieh, um ihre stillen Schultern früht
das Gefühl, daß sie die jüngste wäre
unter den Geschwistern im Gemüt.

Jubel weiß, und Sehnsucht ist geständig,—
nur die Klage lernt noch; mädchenhändig
zählt sie nächtenlang das alte Schlimme.

Aber plötzlich, schräg und ungeübt,
hält sie doch ein Sternbild unserer Stimme
in den Himmel, den ihr Hauch nicht trübt.

Only in the fields of Praise may Complaint
go, the nymphs of the plaintive spring,
watching over our defeats,
that they would be clear on the same rock

that carries the arch and the altars.—
See, on her quiet shoulders dawns
the feeling that she was the youngest
among the siblings of sentiment.

Joy knows, and Longing remains constant,—
only Complaint still learns; with a girl's hands
she counts through the nights the old wrongs.

But then suddenly, unpracticed and askew,
she fetches a star-image of our voice
in the night sky, one that doesn't cloud her breath.

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: Sonnet to Orpheus: XVIII [FIRST PART] (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| Selected Sonnets to Orpheus twenty-two poems in the order they have been featured (text only) | PDF of Six Sonnets |
* Orpheus is the musician of musicians of classical Greek mythology. He is the one
whose magical art of the lyre has the power to charm the whole of Nature—the trees,
rivers, stones and even the wild animals, into the silence of listening. Son of Calliope,
the muse of epic poetry, and a Thracian river-god (in some versions of the story Apollo),
Orpheus married the nymph Eurydice who was fated to die of a serpent bite on her heel.
In his profound grief, Orpheus follows his beloved into the underworld, and with the
sound of his lyre enchants the resident deities into consenting to her release. The one
condition which Orpheus has to meet during the ascent back to the upperworld is that
he is not to look back at Eurydice. In a brief moment of weakness, he does, however,
look back, whereby Eurydice vanishes forever without a trace.

Rejecting all women in his sadness afterwards, Orpheus is later ripped to pieces by the
Maenads. This then is the source of the famous image of Orpheus' lyre and singing head,
floating off through empty space to the island of Lesbos.

| see also the Rilke Posters |

| listen to other recordings in English and German of twelve poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page
(# Includes instructions) |
See other recent additions of new English translations of Rilke's poetry, together with
featured photographs at:

(8) June: The Poetry of Images of Movement

May: Sky Tracks—a 'Found-poem' Photo

| see also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
a presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

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Photograph/Texts of Translations © 1999 - 2004 Cliff Crego

(created :
VI.25..2000) (revised : VII.12..2004)  * Special thanks to
Ulrich Osterloh for his very helpful remarks concerning important details
of this translation.
Comments to crego@picture-poems.com