Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. He is seen as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets. His works include several collections of poetry, one novel, and several volumes of correspondence in which he ponders communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude and anxiety.

Rilke in Moscow by L.Pasternak (1928)

Rainer Maria Rilke in Moscow by Leonid Pasternak (1928). L.Pasternak, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


Expectant and waiting you muse
On the great rare thing which alone
To enhance your life you would choose:
The awakening of the stone,
The deeps where yourself you would lose.

In the dusk of the shelves, embossed
Shine the volumes in gold and browns,
And you think of countries once crossed,
Of pictures, of shimmering gowns
Of the women that you have lost.

And it comes to you then at last—
And you rise for you are aware
Of a year in the far off past
With its wonder and fear and prayer.


Growing Blind

Among all the others there sat a guest
Who sipped her tea as if one apart,
And she held her cup not quite like the rest;
Once she smiled so it pierced one’s heart.

When the group of people arose at last
And laughed and talked in a merry tone,
As lingeringly through the rooms they passed
I saw that she followed alone.

Tense and still like one who to sing must rise
Before a throng on a festal night
She lifted her head, and her bright glad eyes
Were like pools which reflected light.

She followed on slowly after the last
As though some object must be passed by,
And yet as if were it once but passed
She would no longer walk but fly.

Also see Rilke’s “In April” at the April Poems page.

From The Book of Hours (1905)

The Book of A Monk’s Life

I live my life in circles that grow wide
And endlessly unroll,
I may not reach the last, but on I glide
Strong pinioned toward my goal.

About the old tower, dark against the sky,
The beat of my wings hums,
I circle about God, sweep far and high
On through milleniums.

Am I a bird that skims the clouds along,
Or am I a wild storm, or a great song?


Many Have Painted Her

Many have painted her. But there was one
Who drew his radiant colours from the sun.
Mysteriously glowing through a background dim
When he was suffering she came to him,
And all the heavy pain within his heart
Rose in his hands and stole into his art.
His canvas is the beautiful bright veil
Through which her sorrow shines. There where the
Texture o’er her sad lips is closely drawn
A trembling smile softly begins to dawn …
Though angels with seven candles light the place
You cannot read the secret of her face.


Letters to a Young Poet is a well-known collection of ten of of Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to an aspiring writer. You may read about the letters in “Can Rilke Change Your Life?” from The New Yorker and of course, in the book itself.


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