Rainer Maria Rilke


Der Geist Ariel

(Nach der Lesung von Shakespeares Sturm)

Man hat ihn einmal irgendwo befreit
mit jenem Ruck, mit dem man sich als Jüngling
ans Große hinriß, weg von jeder Rücksicht.
Da ward er willens, sieh: und seither dient er,
nach jeder Tat gefaßt auf seine Freiheit.
Und halb sehr herrisch, halb beinah verschämt,
bringt mans ihm vor, daß man für dies und dies
ihn weiter brauche, ach, und muß es sagen,
was man ihm half. Und dennoch fühlt man selbst,
wie alles das, was man mit ihm zurückhält,
fehlt in der Luft. Verführend fast und süß:
ihn hinzulassen -, um dann, nicht mehr zaubernd,
ins Schicksal eingelassen wie die andern,
zu wissen, daß sich seine leichte Freundschaft,
jetzt ohne Spannung, nirgends mehr verpflichtet,
ein Überschuß zu dieses Atmens Raum,
gedankenlos im Element beschäftigt.
Abhängig fürder, länger nicht begabt,
den dumpfen Mund zu jenem Ruf zu formen,
auf den er stürzte. Machtlos, alternd, arm
und doch ihn atmend wie unfaßlich weit


verteilten Duft, der erst das Unsichtbare
vollzählig macht. Auflächelnd, daß man dem
so winken durfte, in so großen Umgang
so leicht gewöhnt. Aufweinend vielleicht auch,
wenn man bedenkt, wie's einen liebte und
fortwollte, beides, immer ganz in Einem.  

(Ließ ich es schon? Nun schreckt mich dieser Mann,
der wieder Herzog wird. Wie er sich sanft
den Draht ins Haupt zieht und sich zu den andern
Figuren hängt und künftighin das Spiel
um Milde bittet .... Welcher Epilog
vollbrachter Herrschaft. Abtun, bloßes Dastehn
mit nichts als eigner Kraft: "und das ist wenig.")


(After reading Shakespeare's Tempest)

Once, somewhere, somehow, you had set him free

with that sharp jolt which as a young man tore you

out of your life and vaulted you to greatness.

Then he grew willing: and, since then, he serves,

after each task impatient for his freedom.

And half imperious, half almost ashamed,

you make excuses, say that you still need him

for this and that, and, ah, you must describe

how you helped him. Yet you feel, yourself,

that everything held back by his detention

is missing from the air. How sweet, how tempting:

to let him go  to give up all your magic,

submit yourself to destiny like the others,

and know that his light friendship, without strain now,

with no more obligations, anywhere,

an intensifying of this space you breathe,

is working in the element, thoughtlessly.

Henceforth dependent, never again empowered

to shape the torpid mouth into that call

at which he dived. Defenceless, aging, poor,

and yet still breathing him in, like a fragrance

spread endlessly, which makes the invisible

complete for the first time. Smiling that you

ever could summon him and feel so much at home

in that vast intimacy. Weeping too, perhaps,

When you remember how he loved and yet

wished to leave you: always both, at once.

(Have I let go, already? I look on,

terrified by this man who has become

a duke again. How easily he draws

the wire through his head and hangs

himself up with the other puppets; then steps forward

to ask the audience for their applause

and their indulgence... What consummate power:

to lay aside, to stand there nakedly

with no strength but one's own, "which is most faint")

"Uncollected Poems" 

  THE TLS, AUGUST 30 2016


John Keats, Drawn in Death’


A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Neville Rogers; introduced by Maya Popa

In 1821, Joseph Severn sketched a portrait of John Keats, aged twenty-five, as the poet lay dying of tuberculosis. “Drawn to keep me awake”, Severn’s inscription indicates. As Keats’s condition deteriorated, Severn followed the poet to Rome, remaining by his side until his final moments. Few poets are as posthumously mythologized as Keats. Death has preserved him in a state of suspended youth, leaving scholars to marvel at the depth and maturity of his greatest work. Poems such as “When I Have Fears” and “Ode to a Nightingale” bear a heightened sense of mortality, appearing to presage the events that would follow.

Rainer Maria Rilke read Keats in German translation in 1911. Rilke’s poem, “John Keats, Drawn in Death”, translated by Neville Rogers and appearing in the TLS in 1966, captures and laments Keats’s dying, from a measured description of Severn’s illustration, to the urgent exclamations at the poet’s untimely death. The poem mourns him as though he were an intimate friend, appropriating his own poetic style in the process. As the speaker describes the sketch, he addresses Keats: “So things remain; the drawing’s caught  by mourning / Quickened, you’d say”, as though borrowing Keats’s idiom. In the penultimate stanza, the speaker exclaims: “O eye that will no more Beauty be wringing / Out of some Truth-in-Things unhidden never!”, evoking the concluding lines of Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,  that is all / ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. “John Keats, Drawn in Death” offers an insight into Rilke’s feelings towards Keats, notably paying tribute through the poem’s shared form. 

John Keats, Drawn in Death

Now, from afar, to the stilled Singer’s head there
Reach the horizon-distances unending,
And agony falls again, past comprehending,
On the dark form, an agony that bred there.

So things remain; the drawing’s caught – by mourning
Quickened, you’d say: a second-brief creation –
The flickering passage of a pity scorning
The very facts of Being and Cessation.

Whose is that face? No more the mind’s endeavour
Can features speak with mind together-clinging!
O eye that will no more Beauty be wringing
Out of some Truth-in-Things, unhidden never! –
O gate of singing,
Young mouth, surrendered now, closed now, alas, for ever! –

Only the forehead seems to be achieving
A lasting bridge across the dissolution, –
To the tired, tumbling locks’ irresolution
A mild reproach, full of most gentle grieving.

Translated by Neville Rogers (1966)


Zu der Zeichnung, John Keats im Tode darstellend

Zu der Zeichnung, John Keats im Tode darstellend

Nun reicht an's Antlitz dem gestillten Rühmer
die Ferne aus den offnen Horizonten:
so fällt der Schmerz, den wir nicht fassen konnten,
zurück an seinen dunklen Eigentümer.


Und dies verharrt, so wie es, leidbetrachtend,
sich bildete zum freiesten Gebilde,
noch einen Augenblick, - in neuer Milde
das Werden selbst und den Verfall verachtend.

Gesicht: o wessen? Nicht mehr dieser eben
noch einverstandenen Zusammenhänge.
O Aug, das nicht das schönste mehr erzwänge
der Dinge aus dem abgelehnten Leben.
O Schwelle der Gesänge,
o Jugendmund, für immer aufgegeben.


Und nur der Stirne baut sich etwas dauernd
hinüber aus verflüchtigten Bezügen,
als strafte sie die müden Locken lügen,
die sich an ihr ergeben, zärtlich trauernd.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 27.1.1914, Paris
Gesammelte Werke, Band III (1927)