By: Rainer Maria Rilke
By day Thou are the Legend and the Dream
That like a whisper floats about all men,
The deep and brooding stillnesses which seem,
After the hour has struck, to close again.
And when the day with drowsy gesture bends
And sinks to sleep beneath the evening skies,
As from each roof a tower of smoke ascends—
So does Thy Realm, my God, around me rise.
All those who seek Thee tempt Thee,
And those who find would bind Thee
To gesture and to form.
But I would comprehend Thee
As the wide Earth unfolds Thee.
Thou growest with my maturity,
Thou Art in calm and storm.
I ask of Thee no vanity
To evidence and prove Thee.
Thou Wert in eons old.
Perform no miracles for me,
But justify Thy laws to me
Which, as the years pass by me,
All soundlessly unfold.
In a house was one who arose from the feast
And went forth to wander in distant lands,
Because there was somewhere far off in the East
A spot which he sought where a great Church stands.
And ever his children, when breaking their bread,
Thought of him and rose up and blessed him as dead.
In another house was the one who had died,
Who still sat at table and drank from the glass
And ever within the walls did abide—
For out of the house he could no more pass.
And his children set forth to seek for the spot
Where stands the great Church which he forgot.
Extinguish my eyes, I still can see you,
Close my ears, I can hear your footsteps fall,
And without feet I still can follow you,
And without voice I still can to you call.
Break off my arms, and I can embrace you,
Enfold you with my heart as with a hand.
Hold my heart, my brain will take fire of you
As flax ignites from a lit fire-brand—
And flame will sweep in a swift rushing flood
Through all the singing currents of my blood.
In the deep nights I dig for you, O Treasure!
To seek you over the wide world I roam.
For all abundance is but meager measure
Of your bright beauty which is yet to come.
Over the road to you the leaves are blowing.
Few follow it, the way is long and steep.
You dwell in solitude—Oh, does your glowing
Heart in some far off valley lie asleep?
My bloody hands, with digging bruised, I’ve lifted.
Spread like a tree I stretch them in the air
To find you before day to night has drifted;
I reach out into space to seek you there . . .
Then, as though with a swift impatient gesture,
Flashing from distant stars on sweeping wing.
You come, and over earth a magic vesture
Steals gently as the rain falls in the spring.
Translated by: Jessie Lemont