Thursday, January 24, 2013


                                             by Rainer Maria Rilke
                                          (translated by Robert Bly)

                      Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
                      which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
                      You look, and soon these two worlds both have you,
                      one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

                      leaving you, not really belonging to either,
                      not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
                      not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
                      that turns to a star each night and climbs—

                      leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
                      your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
                      so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
                      one moment of your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

Note on Translation:  In The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell), this poem is listed under the title, "Evening."  While I like Mitchell's translations on the whole, I prefer Bly's translation in this particular case.  See Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly).


  1. Would that I could always 'untangle the threads' in that way!

    Your words and images always make me stop, breathe and reflect, George. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, BONNIE. Here's hoping that your life is a star today, not a stone (though, to be honest, I think there is a time to be still like a stone, rather than burning like a star).

  3. Most of my days end up being a mixture of both. Beautiful image, wonderful poem.

  4. I think you speak for most of us, TERESA, and maybe that's the way it's supposed to be — stone, star, stone, star — like the life-sustaining rhythm of the heart.

  5. I love this George - the more I come across this poet the more I like him.

  6. Great, PAT. Rilke's poetry and insights are nothing less than stunning and life-affirming. There is a wonderful book titled, "A Year with Rilke." It provides 365 daily meditations using Rilke's words. It's a feast for the eye and the heart, and I think you would enjoy it.

  7. Thank you George for posting this exquisite poem. I have been looking at your stunning photographs, enjoying the poems you've posted, as well as some of the quotes you have on your blog (especially Mark Twain's one!). The post about the public, private and secret parts of us - prompted by the Gabriel Garcia Marquez quote - was particularly thought provoking as I was thinking today about the difference between the private and the secret. I like that 'the secret' can be a kind of suspended inner place, where one can choose to reveal - or not - and I relish that sense of choice!
    Thank you for all these interesting posts and images!

  8. Thanks so much for stopping by, DRITANJE, and thanks for the generous and lovely comments. I'm delighted that you have found something of value on Transit Notes, and I'm especially pleased that you liked the posting on "The Public, The Private, and the Secret." I wasn't sure how that would be received by readers, but I agree with Stephen Dunn that everyone has a secret room in his or her life, and secret rooms are needed for a variety of reasons, most of which are very salutary.

  9. I've liked every poem I've ever read (not many) with Robert Bly's name attached to it (either as author or translator). Your post made me decide I should know more about him so I had a bit of a google. I had never come across the mythopoetic men's movement before. Interesting to read about.

  10. A lovely poem and a beautiful image to go with it.

  11. This is beautiful and profound. I also need to let it sink and rise in me a while longer to grasp it.

    Also, it reminds me of the sense I had when I wrote INAUGURATION DAY Monday morning, of the sun rising, people getting up, and everyone being under the same sky, yet with such different feelings and outlooks. Then Richard Blanco read a poem at the inauguration with a similar attention to that "one today" we all live within.

    Time's movement never stops, and the rising and falling of our existing is a constant cycle. I find this reassuring, for like you, I would not always want to be a star, but nor would I always want to be a stone (of course).

  12. Thanks, DOMINIC. I don't know too much about about the the mythopoetic men's movement, but I'm going to follow your lead and check it out. I do have several books by Robert Bly (poetry and otherwise), and I recall that he often returns to our mythological foundations.

  13. Thanks, RUTH. Yes, isn't this rhythm and roll of time fascinating? The pulse of Rilke's poem echoing undeniable truths of what came before, your poem echoing something of Rilke, Richard Blanco's song embracing all words, all music, every sunrise and dusk. Sometimes we can joyfully lose ourselves in the grandeur of everything without understanding any of it.

  14. Thanks, ROWAN. Perhaps the sunset image is a bit cliche, but, as May West once famously said, "too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

  15. Translation very rarely captures the poetry of the original.

    Rilke’s poetry is hidden in his words and phrases and very specific meanings of them, their measure, music and history. Nothing about Rilke is foreground, all is depth. No translation will ever be able to do him fully justice.

    It breaks my heart.

  16. I'm sure you're right about this, FRIKO, but translations are the only recourse for those of us who, unfortunately, can neither read nor speak German. I can assure you, however, that Rilke's poetry, even in its translated forms, moves me deeply.

  17. Like dritanje, George, I've been reading and enjoying your recent posts — and I also especially appreciated the one about our public and secret selves.

    I think you know already that Rilke is one of favourite poets, perhaps my favourite of all, if one had to choose.

    I agree with Friko — all is depth with Rilke. (I'm very fortunate in being able to read him in the original German and French.)

  18. Thanks, ROBERT. I'm especially glad that you found something of value in the recent post on our public and secret selves. This is a delicate issue for some people, I think, because suspicions are often created by the mere suggestion that one has a "secret life." As Stephen Dunn's poet demonstrates, however, a secret life is no less important than a public life.

    I envy your ability to read Rilke in the original German. I'm quite sure there are depths to be found there that are missed in most translations.

  19. Re. Rilke in French, George — he wrote a fair amount of stuff in this language when he lived in Switzerland during the later stages of his life. I believe you know at least some French, so perhaps you could try reading him thus? Just a thought. (It's not easy, though — his French prose, for instance, though brilliant, is pretty dense in places.)

  20. Thanks, ROBERT. My reading comprehension in French is not that great, but I'm willing to give it a try. I often pick up French magazines and newspapers just to test my comprehension.