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from Sonnets to Orpheus

by Rainer Maria Rilke

translated from the German by Lorne Mook

Part 1, Sonnet 5

Erect no memorial stone. Just let the roses,
year after year, in his memory, bloom.
For it’s Orpheus, and he metamorphoses
into this and that. No need to make room

for any other names; once and for all,
it’s Orpheus if it’s singing. He arrives,
departs. Is it not much that he survives,
sometimes, a few days longer than the bowl

of roses? Although to vanish makes him afraid,
he must vanish so that each of us understands.
In that his word surpasses this existence,

he’s gone alone already into distance.
The lyre’s lattice hinders not his hands.
And when he has overstepped he has obeyed.

Part 1, Sonnet 6

Is he native to this place? No. From both
kingdoms his vast nature got its growth.
This one who knows the willow’s roots knows how,
as a result, to bend the willow’s bough.

When going to bed, never leave bread
and never leave milk on the table: they draw the dead.
But may he, the conjurer who makes them rise,
mix under the mild lids of his eyes

their apparitions with all he has been shown;
and may for him the charm of earth smoke and rue
be, like the clearest of relations, true.

His is the authentic image nothing can mar;
be they from graves, be they from rooms he has known,
he praises bracelet, finger-ring, and jar.


Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) is one of the great poets of the German language and of the twentieth century. His collections include The Book of Images, New Poems, and the Duino Elegies—begun in 1912 at Duino Castle on the Adriatic and completed at the Château de Muzot near Sierre, Switzerland, in February 1922. During that same month, Rilke wrote all fifty-five of the Sonnets to Orpheus. (10/2008)

Lorne Mook grew up on a farm in northwest Pennsylvania and now lives in Upland, Indiana, where he teaches in the English Department at Taylor University. His translations of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems have appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, and Literary Imagination. A collection of his own poems, Travelers Without Maps, was published in 2002 and features on its cover his photograph of the Château de Muzot, where Rilke wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus. (updated 10/2008)

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AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI