In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought it fitting to spread the love for my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. One of the most celebrated poets in the German language, Rainer Maria Rilke is known for his beautiful imagery, his terrifying angels, and the soft, musical tone of his words.
More recently, he was blasted for being a Fallen Idol, defended by me here, but for National Poetry Month, I want to focus on his words alone. Rilke’s work moved me so much when I was first studying German that I ended up immersing myself in it and writing my doctoral dissertation about his poetry. His books lined my shelves and his picture hung on my wall while I scribbled in my notebook.
Instead of rambling about how his work moves me personally (which I could do at length), I thought I’d offer up some zinger lines from his poems that grabbed me when I first read them and still grab me now. Without further ado:
From Frühlung (“Spring”), one of Rilke’s early poems:
Die Sonne schreibt sich hoffnungsvoll
ins junge Gras mit großen Lettern.
Full of hope, the sun corresponds
in the young grass with huge type.
From Der Schutzengel (“The Guardian Angel”), one of the poems in The Book of Images:
Du bist der Vogel, dessen Flügel kamen,
wenn ich erwachte un der Nacht und rief.
You are the bird, whose wings came,
when I awoke in the night and called.
From Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”), one of the poems in the New Poems series:
Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, dass
sie nicht an deine rührt?
How should I keep my soul from
From the first elegy of the Duineser Elegien (“Duino Elegies”):
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Who, if I screamed, would hear me
from the orders of angels?
From the eighteenth sonnet of the Sonette an Orpheus (“Sonnets to Orpheus”)
Tänzerin: o du Verlegung
alles Vergehens in Gang: wie brachtest du’s dar.
Dancer: o you postponement
of everything in decay in motion: how you offer it up.
It was so hard to pick only five amazing Rilke lines! I’d love to hear if these words move you as well. Feel free to add your favorites!