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.


Bond Between Two People

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!

Therefore this too must be the standard for rejection or choice: whether one is willing to stand guard over the solitude of a person and whether one is inclined to set this same person at the gate of one’s own solitude, of which he learns only through that which steps, festively clothed, out of the great darkness.

All companionship can consist only in the strengthening of two neighboring solitudes, whereas everything that one is wont to call giving oneself is by nature harmful to companionship: for when a person abandons himself, he is no longer anything, and when two people both give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no longer any ground beneath them and their being together is a continual falling… Once there is disunity between them, the confusion grows with every day; neither of the two has anything unbroken, pure, and unspoiled about him any longer… They who wanted to do each other good are now handling one another in an imperious and intolerant manner, and in the struggle somehow to get out of their untenable and unbearable state of confusion, they commit the greatest fault that can happen to human relationships: they become impatient. They hurry to a conclusion; to come, as they believe, to a final decision, they try once and for all to establish their relationship, whose surprising changes have frightened them, in order to remain the same now and forever (as they say).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

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.

Translated by Leonard Cottrell