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Likeness of My Father in His Youth

by Rainer Maria Rilke

translated from the German by William Harmon

In the eyes: dream.
                Forehead communicating
with something distant.
                   Around the mouth
an extraordinary power of youth
and seductiveness, but a seductiveness minus the smiling.

And in front of the full-dress braid of the trim
old-fashioned outfit of nobility
the ample hilt of the sabre, and his two hands,
which attend, at rest, forced towards nothing.

And very nearly invisible now, as though
what held fast to far things were first to go.

And every other thing is self-concealed
and expunged, as though beyond our understanding
and, out from unfathomable depths, profoundly opaque—

you, fast-fading daguerrotype
in my slower-fading hands.


Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875 and died of leukemia in Valmont in 1926.

William Harmon is the author of five volumes of poetry. He teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (1981)

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