Monday, December 4, 2017

A Sonnet by Rilke on His Birthday

Rainer Maria Rilke, born this day, December 4 1875.

A tree ascended there. Oh pure transendence!
Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence
a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.

Creatures of stillness crowded from the bright
unbound forest, out of their lairs and nests;
and it was not from any dullness, not
from fear, that they were so quiet in themselves,

but from just listening. Bellow, roar, shriek
seemed small inside their hearts. And where there had been
at most a makeshift hut to receive the music,

a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind —
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.


— Rainer Maria Rilke


On February 2 1922, holed up in the Chateau de Muzot, Rainer Maria Rilke was "overcome with a hurricane in the spirit, howling unbelievably vast commands and receiving signals from cosmic space and booming out to them my immense salvos of welcome." He began to write. By February 23, Rilke had written four poems, six elegies and 64 sonnets that became the basis for, The Sonnets of Orpheus. This is the first sonnet.