Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Am Much Too Alone In This World

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) almost exactly straddles the 19th and 20th century, dying of leukemia at age 51 in Switzerland, though his best literary years were in Paris (1902-1914) where, for a time, he was Rodin's secretary(!).  Both a poet and a novelist, he was admired by his contemporaries but not broadly popularized until after his death.  His reputation has grown over time, his lyrical style (of which the selection below is not a prime example) striking. 

For me, this poem captures that yearning to know and be known - authentically, purely - that should be at the start of every love.  It's a manifesto of good intentions that, hopefully, can be carried out through the right balancing of risk/self-protection.  It's also a plea that, one hopes, is shared by the love object to be the same way.

(I chose this oil of him vs. a photograph since this is more flattering, by far.)

I am much too alone


I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.


I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.


Let's invite something new
by unifying our silences;
if, then and there, we advance,
we'll know it soon enough.

                                                                   Rainer Maria Rilke (transl. by Annemarie S.Kilder)

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