Monday, March 19, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Three (Rilke)

Thanks to all of you who are participating in The Mnemosyne Weekly! If you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne post to find out what this project is all about. 

Our poem this week is by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell). This is my favorite translation of one of my all time favorite poems. It's a little bit longer than the other ones we've memorized, but I'm sure you'll agree that it's worth the effort. As well, I'd like to mention that Rilke was a wonderful prose writer. If you haven't yet read his Letters to a Young Poet, I highly recommend picking up a hardcover edition so that when you finish reading it you can keep it on your shelf forever!

I love hearing your thoughts about the poems and what your experience was of memorizing them, so please continue to leave comments at the posts. Leave comments for last week's poem by Emily Dickinson at The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Two.

Here is your poem for the week. Enjoy!

I.3 (from The Sonnets To Orpheus)

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;
song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice – learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

— Rainer Maria Rilke (1923), trans. Stephen Mitchell (1989)


  1. i like you writing. i also like your wave.

  2. So loving my audio book with all the elegies and sonnets. This is one of the ones worth remembering. I really want to join you in this. Do you still want people to comment in line? This would be a great one to discuss..

  3. I'm so glad you're joining me, and, yes, yes - I'd love to have comments. Perfect timing too - I'm just about to add the poem for this week.

  4. This is new to me - I love most of all the last two lines. The beginning, I realize I am only on the surface - and I think; every difficulty in mastering the memorizing of a poem is a challenge to embrace, to truly understand within oneself and accept intimately(without fear - and without the defense which some underlying fear or confusion may engender). The healing energy of your work here becomes clear to me - you set me, set us an example - the very best sort of live-love-gift to life.
    well, ONE of the very best sorts.

  5. I love the last two lines, as well! It's funny - this is one of my all time favorite poems, yet I found it more difficult to memorize than the others. The individual lines feel more complex. It's not just that they are enjambed (many in "One Heart" are as well) - it's THE WAY they are enjambed. This line ("was forced wide open by your own voice – learn") is a good example. I found that I almost had to memorize by sentence as much as by line with this poem. And, even after memorizing it, I feel that I am still understanding parts of it anew. Rilke is so rich and lyrical! A true delight -

  6. I've never read this poem aloud. I've read it many times but never heard the words, felt each sentence so intensely until now. The turn that impacted me so deeply came right here:

    song is reality. Simple, for a god.
    But when can we be real? When does he pour

    the earth, the stars, into us?

    One might feel an inner rejection toward this logic when they initially read it. I'M REAL, I think, God is the one in question, we cannot see him or feel him with any of our senses yet there is perception beyond the body. Rilke is asking us to consider that we are only real when something divine has endowed us. He asks us to become godlike -- to endow our lives with this gust. To move beyond the reflexive urges of the body and become spirit. How I love this poem. I never looked at it so deeply. Thank you for bringing Rilke even closer to my heart.

  7. p.s. I know what you mean about still understanding parts of it anew.... Another great reason to memorize! Wonderful!

    1. It makes me so happy to hear that Rilke has come closer to your heart. Memorizing has an amazing way of doing that! I love what you say here: "He asks us to become godlike -- to endow our lives with this gust." I never thought of it quite like that before, but that little phrase," a gust inside the god," has always thrilled me in a way that I just couldn't explain. And what you say here helps me realize why. When we endow our lives with this divinity, and in this case, the divine song, we are also inside the god.