May: Every Poem a Prayer
(click on image to enlarge)
Leaf, North America "I believe in everything not /
   yet said.
I want to liberate my most /
   devout feelings.
What no one has ever dared /
   to desire,
will become in time for me /

from The Book of Hours, a
poem by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image simply called
Also: three new translations
from the German.

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

Every Poem a Prayer

In the current era, it seems that we are either all too comfortable
with the idea of prayer—like the new species of reactionary politician
which ostentatiously holds prayer meetings before the start of the
business day—or not comfortable at all, like most of the old-fashioned
contemporary intellectuals in either North America or Europe who
cringe at the slightest thought of any kind of worship or petition
made to a hypothetical higher power.

Whereas I would certainly agree with the intellectuals here that all
traces of organized religion should rigorously be excluded from
government, in my view, this form of rationalism has at the same
time made a tragic mistake in equating spirituality with (irrational)

It is here that we find the vast spiritual wasteland left behind in
the current all-but-complete fragmentation of Religion and Science.
As I have written elsewhere, [see the miniature: Science; Religion;
] I feel that a new approach is as possible as it is necessary, one
which briefly sees the essence of Science "as the willingness to drop
a particular way of looking at the world if it appears to be contradicted
by fact"; and the essence of Religion as not belief, "but rather the
willingness to explore together the sources of disorder, conflict
and waste as they manifest in our relationships with ourselves, with
each other and the world around us." In less formal terms, what Science
and Religion in this view share is that they now come hand in hand
to a kind of order by taking the other—disorder or disharmony—

Being careful not to project my own views onto a poetry which came
into being in a different language and culture almost a hundred years
ago, I do feel that we find a hint of a new spirituality of this kind in
Rilke's poetry.

At least it should be possible to clear the ground, so to speak, so that
one can once again use the word, "prayer". But now in a freer sense, one
which does not begin with a benign heavenly father represented in Rome
or elsewhere, but rather a kind of primal or ur-crying out to the powers
of the Universe.

For the special feature for this week, I've brought together three early
pieces from Rilke's work that do just that, but in three distinctly different
voices. Two of these voices are very large and orchestral in nature, whereas
the last piece, entitled simply
Prayer, we might imagine almost sotto
literally, whispered 'under the voice'—on a windless evening,
perhaps with but a solitary candle with which to write.

I may be wrong, but I do feel that there is something new, some new
quality of seriousness, a new depth of feeling, to be found here. One
which comes a bit closer to a view that sees each little miracle of Nature,
like the spring leaf pictured above, as whole and complete in itself.
At the same time, each one points to something very greatly beyond
itself, as if each leaf were indeed a kind of prayer:

[Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte]

Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte.
Ich will meine frömmsten Gefühle befrein.
Was noch keiner zu wollen wagte,
wird mir einmal unwillkürlich sein.

Ist das vermessen, mein Gott, vergieb.
Aber ich will dir damit nur sagen:
Meine beste Kraft soll sein wie ein Trieb,
so ohne Zürnen und ohne Zagen;
so haben dich ja die Kinder lieb.

Mit diesem Hinfluten, mit diesem Münden
in breiten Armen ins offene Meer,
mit dieser wachsenden Wiederkehr
will ich dich bekennen, will ich dich verkünden
wie keiner vorher.

Und ist das Hoffahrt, so lass mich hoffährtig sein
für mein Gebet,
das so ernst und allein
vor deiner wolkigen Stirne steht.

(1899) Berlin-Schmargendorf
[I believe in everything not yet said]

I believe in everything not yet said.
I want to liberate my most devout feelings.
What no one has ever dared to desire,
will become in time for me necessity.

If that is unreachable, my Lord, then forgive me.
But I want to say to you only this:
The best of my energies shall be like a drive,
without anger and without timidity;
like the way that children love you.

With this overflowing, with this emptying
into the wide arms of the open sea,
with this ever-growing return,
I want to confess, I want to proclaim to you
as no other before me.

And if this is arrogance, then let me be arrogant
for the sake of my prayer,
that in such seriousness and aloneness
before your clouded brow stands.

| listen to "I believe in ..." in German original; listen to English trnaslation # |


O wie ist alles fern
und lange vergangen.
Ich glauben, der Stern,
von welchem ich Glanz empfangen,
ist seit Jahrtausenden tot.
Ich glaube, im Boot,
das vorüber führ,
hörte ich etwas banges sagen.
Im Hause hat eine Uhr
geschlagen . . .
In welchem Haus? . . .
Ich möchte aus meinem Herzen hinaus
unter den großen Himmel treten.
Ich möchten beten.
Und einer von allen Sternen
müßte wirklich noch sein.
Ich glaube, ich wüßte,
welcher allein
gedauert hat,—
welcher wie eine weiße Stadt
am Ende des Strahls in den Himmeln steht . . .

Das Buch der Bilder (c. 1903)

O How everything is so far away
and so long ago departed.
I believe that the star from which
I receive such glittering light
has been dead for thousands of years.
I believe that something
frightening was said
in the boat which just passed by.
In a house, a clock
has marked the hour . . .
In which house? . . .
I would like to leave my heart behind
and step out under the immense sky.
I would like to pray.
That one of all these stars
must certainly still exist.
I think I know
which one
has endured,—
which one, at the end of its heavenly ray,
stands like a city of white light . . .

from: The Book of Images


| listen to Lament in German original; listen to English trnaslation # |

| listen to a musical composition by Cliff Crego for Double Choirs of 24 fenale singers and
brass instruments, based on the English text of Lament (REQUIRES QuickTime) ; see also
Intro: Lament for Double Choir |


Nacht, stille Nacht, in die verwoben sind
ganz weiße Dinge, rote, bunte Dinge,
verstreute Farben, die erhoben sind
zu Einem Dunkel Einer Stille,— bringe
doch mich auch in Beziehung zu dem Vielen,
das du erwirbst und überredest. Spielen
denn meine Sinne noch zu sehr mit Licht?
Würde sich denn mein Angesicht
noch immer störend von den Gegenständen
abheben? Urteile nach meinen Händen:
Liegen sie nicht wie Werkzeug da und Ding?
Ist nicht der Ring selbst schlicht
an meiner Hand, und liegt das Licht
nicht ganz so, voll Vertrauen, über ihnen,—
als ob sie Wege wären, die, beschienen,
nicht anders sich verzweigen, als im Dunkel? . . .

Rainer Maria Rilke

Das Buch der Bilder

Night, silent night, in which are woven
wholly white things, red, colorful things,
scattered colors that have been elevated
to one Darkness, one Silence,— bring
me too into relationship with the Many
which you have persuaded and acquired. Do
my senses still play too much with the light?
Does my countenance from the surrounding
objects still bring disturbance
into relief? Pass judgement upon my hands:
Do they not lie there like tools, like things?
Is not even the ring common
upon my hand, and does not the light
shine so completely, full of trust, upon them,—
as if they were paths, which, when illumined,
branch not differently, as when in darkness? . . .

  (tr. Cliff Crego)

   from: The Book of Images

| listen to Prayer in German / English one recording # |

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: The Gazelle (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| listen to a musical composition by Cliff Crego for Double Choirs of 24 fenale singers and
12 brass instruments, based on the English text of Lament; see also
Intro: Lament for Double Choir (REQUIRES QuickTime) |

| 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:

(31) May: The Poetry of Coming and Going

(30) May: Alder Spring

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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