Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 19, 2010

Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke

Eagle Over Seal Harbor

I live my life in widening rings
which spread over the earth and sky.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but that is what I will try.

I circle around God, the primordial tower,
and I circle ten thousand years long;
and still I don’t know if I am a falcon, a storm,
or an unfinished song.

After reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and coming across a few lines by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, I was very eager to further explore his writing. My library supplied a collection translated by Stephen Mitchell, and I’ve been dipping into it almost every night since the beginning of the month. I have been loving it. There is something very sad in his writing, but achingly beautiful.

I was informed today that, incredibly, someone has a hold on the book so I really have to return it. I immediately placed an ILL order for another collection with Stephen Mitchell as the translator. I feel kind of at odds about reading translated poetry, because it seems even more likely that the real purpose of the author’s words can’t come through as accurately. I’ve read some positive reviews of Stephen Mitchell though, and to me the poems are so powerful and full of such lovely imagery that I sincerely feel satisfied with them.

I feel that I am at the beginning of a new passion, and that Rilke will be traveling with me for awhile.

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn’t touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn’t resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin’s bow,
which draws
one voice out of two separate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

While I only marked a few poems while reading, I feel that this is going to be one of those books that I need my own copy of, so that I can go through and find all the lines that sing in my heart. Thanks to Maggie Stiefvater’s werewolf for bringing Rilke into my life! 🙂


  1. What a fantastic feeling, of embarking on a new literary passion! I’ve never particularly connected with Rilke, but neither have I put that much effort into seeking him out…your two selections here are lovely, and I’ll look forward to hearing more about him.

  2. Sarah, that first set you quoted is one of my sister’s favourite poems. So beautiful. I remember it vividly. She’s far away and I have no access to her Rilke book now, but you inspire me to get my own copy, and maybe read through a whole book (possibly for the poetry challenge hosted by Lu).

  3. Emily – I’ll keep you posted! I’m a little concerned that he is sentimental, but I need to read more before I decide that.

    Claire – I’ve been considering joining Lu’s challenge too, since this year I have already added more poetry to my reading diet. And the buttons are very pretty. 🙂 I do hope you can find some Rilke!

  4. Have you read Rilke’s prose? His “Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge” is wonderfully difficult but haunting.

    His early work tends to sentimentality but he develops a lot of muscle later. The “Duino Elegies” are first rate.

  5. I do intend to try his prose – thanks for the encouragement. I definitely picked up on some of the sentimentality, and had to return the book before I made it to the Elegies, but I’ve got a new collection and I’m forging on.

  6. […] Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell, since when I was reading it in January I felt overwhelmingly compelled to take a highlighter to my library copy of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: