Multitasking with The Duino Elegies

This is the first day I have ever read any part of Rilke’s elegies.

Rushing online to share a quote, I opened my web browser and, without thinking, clicked on the Bank of America icon. Wrong turn. It’s too early to do banking, to bank, to broker and barter. Soon I’ll be in the car going to back-to-back meetings with my shrink and a client. But right now I’m here, and I’ve just read this:

Yes, the Springs had need of you. Many a star
was waiting for you to espy it. Many a wave
would rise on the past towards you; or, else, perhaps,
as you went by an open window, a violin
would be giving itself to someone. All this was a trust.
But were you equal it it?*

Evidently not. But look, here’s another translation of the same passage:

Yes, the springtimes needed you. Stars now and then
craved your attention. A wave rose
in the remembered past; or as you came by the open window
a violin was singing its soul out. All this
was a given task. But were you capacious
enough to receive it?*

And another:

Yes–the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.

All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?*

Can I accomplish it? Is learning German going to help? Because now I’m really itching to get closer to Rilke’s words. And on top of that, I’ve got this task, this mission; I want to be equal to it. First, I’ll have to clear my schedule.

—–Imaginary Message—–

From: Ruth <>
To: and
Subject: Rescheduling

Hi Shrink & Client,

Please pardon the mass email; I’m short on time, undergoing a poetry-induced-transformation. Apparently, killer waves are headed this way. I’ve been charged with digging my toes into the sand so I can stand firm in welcoming every drop rushing towards me: drop of water, drop of starshine, drop of springtime. Mary Oliver said the world offers itself to my imagination, but Rilke makes it sound a bit more like a mandate. Plus, after reading some of these stanzas, I may have to spend the rest of my days barefoot clutching a damp handkerchief. So perhaps we can try again next Tuesday.

Warmest Regards,


Unfortunately, my bank account can’t withstand the double hit of a cancellation fee and lost income. But, you know what? My client’s office is a couple blocks from the beach.


*Excerpt from The First Elegy of The Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke


6 thoughts on “Multitasking with The Duino Elegies

  1. You have the vastest capacity to notice & to welcome whatever your senses take in –that I’ve ever stumbled across. I think you need to publish your blog as a journal.
    And I also spent time checking several translations of a variety of poems I wanted to post—Rilke & Goethe; whoever thought it would be German that I was trying to peer into. Or those two–constantly mentioned in novels as the refuge of melancholy adolescents. But I’m cross that I ever permitted that bit of condescension to keep me from finding out for myself
    The first time I longed to know PRECISELY what was being conveyed in every tint, or trickle, or shade of another language–what aura might radiate from a word or phrase that only someone with generations of those words in her bloodstream might detect that I could not– was while I was drugged –as you can only be at 17 or 18– and high on Turgenev. And then I think Flaubert short stories & then more Russians. But lazy, slow-witted & self-conscious, have depended on whatever translation I picked up, until those poems which made me restless again.
    It’s a little like music–which I’d like to make, but can only listen to.
    And as averse as I am to mimicking (oh–thus the dropped language to say nothing of dropped ambitions of greater scope?)I’d like to ask you if it would be all right if I also post this bit of Rilke? An acquaintance & I were JUST talking about how readily people accept the degraded environment, or contribute to the degradation, and how that has to do with looking at (occassionally)- -but not seeing- what is everywhere around them.
    love as always,

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