Seriously: where do the self-tortures of Sapiens end?
Not my love for Rilke nor the elegaic beauty of this poem persuade me that unrequited love is worth one second of a life.
This, of course, is a particular kind of unrequited love because the poet does not know his Beloved.
And so I take it that this poem in its widest sense may be an expression of the poet’s love for the world.
So vast is the world. We cannot experience it all.
You Who Never Arrived
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926, Austrian
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods–
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.
You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house– , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,–
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening.
Blue Mountain Horses, 1984, painted ceramic sculpture, and detail. Rudy Autio, 1926-2007, American.
Included in Oliver Beer’s Vessel Orchestra at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2019