Friday, July 13, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke

I first heard Rilke's poems from my priest in a sermon about the difficulty of knowing we could know God. She quoted some poems from Rilke's Book of Hours and I was so taken with them I went right out and bought my own copy of the book. Today I am reading some of my favorite selections, including this one (where I happen to keep the bookmark):

Was irren meine Hande in den Pinseln?

Why am I reaching again for the brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.

But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

(read the rest of the poem here.)

Rilke was born in Prague on December 4, 1875. He wrote The Book of Hours in German on a trip to Russia in 1905. This translation is by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, 1996. The publisher Penguin describes the book like this:

"While visiting Russia in his twenties, Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, was moved by a spirituality he encountered there. Inspired, Rilke returned to Germany and put down on paper what he felt were spontaneously received prayers. Rilke's Book of Hours is the invigorating vision of spiritual practice for the secular world, and a work that seems remarkably prescient today, one hundred years after it was written.

Rilke's Book of Hours shares with the reader a new kind of intimacy with God, or the divine—a reciprocal relationship between the divine and the ordinary in which God needs us as much as we need God. Rilke influenced generations of writers with his Letters to a Young Poet, and now Rilke's Book of Hours tells us that our role in the world is to love it and thereby love God into being. These fresh translations rendered by Joanna Macy, a mystic and spiritual teacher, and Anita Barrows, a skilled poet, capture Rilke's spirit as no one has done before."

Listen to an audio-file of another poem read here.

Today's Friday Poetry round up will be hosted at Chicken Spaghetti..


Jules said...

Oh my do I love Rilke, and oh my do I love this post! Thank you, thank you.

Karen E. said...

I love Rilke, too. Very nice.

Sara said...

Would that every church had a little Rilke posted near the door...

eisha said...

Very, very good indeed. Rilke makes me want to learn German to see just how much more excellent he probably is pre-translation.

cloudscome said...

I am so glad you all are enjoying this. I need to read more of it myself! It makes me wish I knew German too.

Kohana said...

Rilke's Book of Hours is part of my "readings of faith." I love it.