Wednesday, January 20, 2010 have been of Earth...

One day while lingering in a dusty, clearance bookstore my hand was attracted to a little gem of a book entitled, "In Praise of Mortality, Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus", translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  It contains the original German text and the English translation.  I wish I could read German, as I am captivated by the translation and can only imagine the beauty of the words as Rilke originally wrote them.  It cost under $5.00, but has become one of the most treasured books in my library.

I find the following sampling of words to be profoundly comforting.  Rilke's thoughts offer a meaningful way to contemplate our temporal existence.  Here are parts of "The Ninth Elegy" from the Duino Elegies.

The Ninth Elegy

Why, if it's possible to come into existence
as laurel, say, a little darker green
than other trees, with ripples edging each
leaf (life the smile of a breeze): why, then,
do we have to be human
and keep running from the fate
we long for?

Oh, not because of such a thing as happiness--
that fleeting gift before the loss begins.
Not from curiosity, or to exercise the heart....
But because simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely--
us, the most vanishing of all.  Once
for each, only once.  Once and no more.
And we too: just one.  Never again.  But
to have lived even this once,
to have been of Earth--
that cannot be taken from us.

. . . And the things, even as they pass,
understand that we praise them.
Transient, they are trusting us
to save them -- us, the most transient of all.
As if they wanted in our invisible hearts
to be transformed
into -- oh, endlessly -- into us.

Earth, isn't this what you want?
To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there's nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose?  Earth, my love,
I want that too.  Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over -- even one flower
is more than enough.  Before I was named
I belonged to you.  I seek no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.

See, I live.  On what?
Childhood and future are equally present.
Sheer abundance of being
floods my heart.

~Rainer Maria Rilke~

(Photograph 2009 Bonnie MacEwan-Zieman)


  1. The last paragraph sums up perfectly the way it should be...most certainly says it all to me!

  2. wow. there was great peace in reading those words...the last paragraph caught me as well...loking for that flood.

  3. Old books and purple flowers – 2 of my favorite things. I can see why this book is a favorite of yours. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Last Thu night's "30 Rock" had Jack Donaghee (sp?), played Alec Baldwin, quoting Rilke in German on a loving drunken phone call to his high school crush. Since he read it in German, no idea what it was. Perhaps some of the words above...

  5. What a find! I love Rilke so much. I've worn out several copies of his "Letters to a Young Poet". Fabulous post, Bonnie. Blessings!

  6. Thank you for sharing, Rilke is a favorite. He transports me to another time and place.

    much love

  7. I live out my life in growing rings
    that over my world are cast.
    They reach out to ever more distant things,
    and once I must venture the last.

    I circle round God, the tower-like form,
    I circle a thousand years long,
    not knowing if I am a falcon, a storm,
    or simply a mighty song.

    And in German it sounds majestic, humble, accepting and gloriously, joyfully, triumphant at the same time.
    This translation is by Prof. Stanley Mason who taught at the University of Salzburg.

    Bonnie, dear friend, even if Rilke were all we have in common, I'd love you for it.

  8. The last paragraph is so true! Love this!

  9. You found so much in a little dusty book that turned out to be from a great writer. That is why I love to go to old second-hand or antiquarian book shops. Sometimes, at random, such a book is found. It can have a profound effect on our psyche. There are still many bookshops like that in Paris, but unfortunately more and more are going out of business in the USA because the younger generation does not read – no time, no inclination. What a pity.

  10. This is a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing it. It presents itself at the perfect time.


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