Rainer Maria Rilke painted by Paula Modersohn-Becker in 1906
with waiting, in endless dreary things.
O solitude, O heavy spending on and on of time . . .
And then outside: the streets flash and ring
and on the squares the fountains leap
and the world becomes boundless in the gardens.
And to walk through it all in one’s small suit,
so unlike the way others walked and sauntered - ;
O wondrous time, O spending on and on of time,
And to look far off into it all:
men and women, men, more men, women
and then children, who are different and bright;
and here a house and now and then a dog
and fear changing places soundlessly with trust - ;
O sadness without cause, ,O dream, O dread,
O endless depth.
And so to play: ball and hoop and handstands
in a garden that keeps softly fading,
and to collide sometimes against grownups
blindly and wildly in the rush of tag,
but at evening quietly, with small stiff steps
to walk back home, your hand firmly held - ;
O ever more escaping grasp of things,
O weight, O fear.
And for hours at the big gray pond
to kneel entranced with a small sailboat;
to neglect it, because other, identical yet
more beautiful sails glide through the rings,
and to have to think about the small pale face
that sinking gazed back out of the pond - ;
O childhood, O likeness gliding off . . .
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from the German by Edward Snow
from 'Being Human’, the companion anthology to
‘Staying Alive’ and 'Being Alive’ edited by Neil Astley.