On this day in 1875 the Bohemian Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke was born. Rilke travelled a lot through Europe and eventually settled in Paris; he was part of the amazing artistic maelstrom that existed there in the first decade of the 20th century.
His mystical and existential themes show him to be a modernist writer ahead of his time, but his poetry also contained great passion:
Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you
And without feet I can make my way to you.
Without a mouth I can swear your name
Sometimes it is almost metaphysical:
Do you remember still the falling stars
That like swift horses through the heavens raced
And suddenly leaped across the hurdles
Of our wishes – do you recall? And we
Did make so many! For there were countless numbers
Of stars: each time we looked above we were
Astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
While in our hearts we felt safe and secure
Watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
Knowing somehow we had survived their fall.
(translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
Rilke died of leukaemia – he had already chosen his epitaph:
Rose, oh pure contradiction, delight
Of being no one’s sleep under so
Today I am grateful for the mysticism and spirituality that give our existence a further dimension.