A Human Compassion

A human compassion, a sense of brotherliness, is certainly not alien to me. … But what completely distinguishes such a joyous and natural sympathy from the social impulse as we understand it today is my complete lack of any desire, in fact my reluctance, to change or “better” as they say, the situation of anyone at all. The situation of no one in the world is such that it [i.e., the situation] might not be of singular benefit to his soul.

Rilke

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So We Live

Who turned us thus around, so we,
no matter what, have the pose
of one who is departing? As he who on
the last hill which still shows
his whole valley, will turn, halt, pause —
so we live, forever taking leave.

Rilke

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Somewhere to the East There’s a Church

Sometimes a man rises from the supper table
and goes outside. And he keeps on going
because somewhere to the east there’s a church.
His children bless his name as if he were dead.

Another man stays at home until he dies,
stays with plates and glasses.
So then it is his children who go out
into the world, seeking the church that he forgot.

Rilke

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The Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XXI

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rilke

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The Last Little Star

I want to put flowers in your hair. But what flowers? There are none with touching enough simplicity. And from what May would I fetch them? But I’m convinced now that you always have a wreath in your hair…or a crown…I’ve never seen you in any other way.

I’ve never seen you without wanting to pray to you. I’ve never heard you without wanting to place my faith in you. I’ve never longed for you without wanting to suffer for your sake. I’ve never desired you without wanting to be able to kneel before you.

I am yours as the staff is the pilgrim’s-only I don’t support you. I am yours as the scepter is the queen’s-only I don’t enrich you. I am yours as the last little star is the night’s, even though the night may be scarcely aware of it and have no knowledge of its glimmer.

Rilke

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The Secrets of Life

If we wish to be let in on the secrets of life, we must be mindful of two things: first, there is the great melody to which things and scents, feelings and past lives, dawns and dreams contribute in equal measure, and then there are the individual voices that complete and perfect this full chorus. And to establish the basis for a work of art, that is, for an image of life lived more deeply, lived more than life as it is lived today, and as the possibility that it remains throughout the ages, we have to adjust and set into their proper relation these two voices: the one belonging to a specific moment and the other to the group of people living in it.

Rilke, Letters on Life

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Our Hands

Seeing is for us the most authentic possibility of acquiring something. If god had only made our hands to be like our eyes–so ready to grasp, so willing to relinquish all things–then we could truly acquire wealth. We do not acquire wealth by letting something remain and wilt in our hands but only by letting everything pass through their grasp as if through the festive gate of return and homecoming. Our hands ought not to be a coffin for us but a bed sheltering the twilight slumber and dreams of the things held there, out of whose depths their dearest secrets speak. Once out of our hands, however, things ought to move forward, now sturdy and strong, and we should keep nothing of them but the courageous morning melody that hovers and shimmers behind their fading steps.

For property is poverty and fear; only to have possessed something and to have let go of it means carefree ownership!

Rilke, Letters on Life

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Mohammed’s Summoning

for T.W.

Power stepped into his hiding place:
at once a presence he could not mistake.
He begged the Angel—pure, erect, ablaze—
to leave him as he was. He would forsake

all his ambitions; it was best he stayed
that baffled, over-traveled man of trade.
He’d never learned his letters…and now such
a word! For wise men, even, far too much.

But no, the Angel fiercely showed and showed
the writing on its page. This will that glowed
would not back down, again demanding:—Read.

And then he did. The Angel bowed its head
before him, one from thenceforth who had read:
who knew, and carried out, and who decreed.

Rilke
Translated by Leonard Cottrell

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The Dark Hours of My Being

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
embrace:

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

Rilke

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