Rainer Maria Rilke

These translations of Rainer Maria Rilke's poems are provided by Terese Coe, who translated the poems directly from German for Kritya. Her consultant was Dr. Claudia Grinnell. We have published Rilke's poems and an article about Rilke in earlier issues. Readers can read Rilke's poems in the November 2005 issue, and the article about Rilke in the July 2006 issue.

Sonnet to Orpheus 19

(Translated from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke)

Although the world may shift
as fast as clouds drift,
all that is whole plunges home
to the primeval.

Over the traffic and track,
farther and freer,
your descant echoes here,
god with the lyre.

Sorrows are not transcended,
love is uncomprehended,
and what distances us in death

is never revealed.
Only intangible song
makes holy, and hails.


Wandelt sich rasch auch die Welt
wie Wolkengestalten,
alles Vollendete fällt
heim zum Uralten.

Über dem Wandel und Gang,
weiter und freier,
währt noch dein Vor-Gesang,
Gott mit der Leier.

Nicht sind die Leiden erkannt,
nicht ist die Liebe gelernt,
und was im Tod uns entfernt,

ist nicht entschleiert.
Einzig das Lied überm Land
heiligt und feiert.

It May Be

(Translated from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke)

It may be I'm passing through the hard seams
of massive mountains, like a vein of ore, alone;
and am so deep inside I see no end
and no distance: everything becoming closeness,
and all that closeness becoming stone.

No, I am no connoisseur of blue—
and so it makes me small, this towering void;
but if that's You, make yourself strong, break through:
so the whole of your hand comes down on me
and the whole of my scream comes down on you.



Vielleicht, daß ich durch schwere Berge gehe
in harten Adern, wie ein Erz allein;
und bin so tief, daß ich kein Ende sehe
und keine Ferne: alles wurde Nähe
und alle Nähe wurde Stein.

Ich bin ja kein Wissender im Wehe,—
so macht mich dieses große Dunkel klein;
bist Du es aber: mach dich schwer, brich ein:
daß deine ganze Hand an mir geschehe
und ich an dir mit meinem ganzen Schrein.

If Only There Were Silence

(Translated from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke)

If only there were silence just one time.
If the random and the undefined
Were muted, and the laughter from the street,
If the noise my senses make did not defeat
My every effort to waken—

Then I could think of you a thousandfold,
My thoughts to your farthest lines, and hold
You, possess you (just for the length of a smile),
And make of you a gift to give all life
As thanks.


Wenn es nur einmal so ganz stille wäre.
Wenn das Zufällige und Ungefähre
Verstummte und das nachbarliche Lachen,
Wenn das Geräusch, das meine Sinne machen,
Mich nicht so sehr verhinderte am Wachen—

Dann könnte ich in einem tausendfachen
Gedanken bis an deinen Rand dich denken
Und dich besitzen (nur ein Lächeln lang),
Um dich an alles Leben zu verschenken
Wie einen Dank.

Terese Coe's poems, translations, and book reviews have appeared in Poetry, Threepenny Review, 32 Poems, Agenda (UK), and Orbis (UK), as well as  Smartish Pace and others, and her first collection of poems, The Everyday Uncommon, won a Word Press publication prize and was published in February 2005. She was awarded a 2006 residence at Vermont Studio Center and was a finalist in the 2004 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, a semifinalist in the 2004-5 Nimrod Hardman Prize, a finalist in a 2005 Orbis Readers’ Poll, and has received two Pushcart nominations and two grants from Giorno Poetry Systems. Ms. Coe was born and lives in New York City (and spent several years teaching English in Kathmandu as well as living in other states and countries) and holds an MA in dramatic literature from the University of Utah.


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