Rainer Maria Rilke

(4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926 / Prague / Czech Republic)

You Who Never Arrived


You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me -- the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods--
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house-- , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,--
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening...

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Yacov Mitchenko (6/26/2010 2:15:00 AM)

    This is a great poem, and deeply moving. It is technically masterful with no cliche in sight, and original associations abound within a classical free-verse form. I think Margery is correct in her interpretation. He yearns for spiritual wholeness, but his Muse or Beloved remains desperately elusive. That phrase about the mirrors in the shop being still dizzy with '[Her] presence' and giving back his 'too-sudden image' is quite striking and fresh. It conveys his desperation and longing with great force. Paradoxically perhaps, without his knowing it, the narrator's search for the Beloved and attendant pain may be exactly what he needs for creative renewal, and not the union itself. (Report) Reply

  • Margery Rehman (12/27/2006 3:53:00 AM)

    Rilke has always been one of my favourite poets but I had not read this one until I saw it on Poem.Hunter. To me this is a most beautiful poem which tugs at my heart and soul. My interpretation is that he is seeking wholeness-part of his soul is incomplete.This could be that his inspiration is not fully matched by his ability to express it; he has difficulty capturing it as he wants to/as his vision compels him to; his muse is elusive. This seems to translate into the mystic's desire for total oneness with the divine beloved or that spirit which drives him to write; the perfect love -but the lover forever eluding him, leaving him almost but not quite whole, still searching. (Report) Reply

  • Monette Szarzynski (7/15/2005 8:08:00 PM)

    I learned of this poem from a newspaper column a few years ago. Rilke's imagery captures the pain of longing succinctly. I really liked the idea of wanting something so desperately so that, in the disappointment of not having found it, it is described as being 'lost from the start.' The frustration of not '[even knowing] what songs would please you'! In the second stanza, where does the speaker even begin to start his search when chance is such a fickle bedfellow? In the speaker's world where everything 'rise[s] within me to mean you, who forever elude me, ' every open window in a country house, every street, and even every shop mirror all hold the promise of the Beloved fulfilled. I especially like the headiness of possibility and the abruptness of reality suggested by the imagery of the shop mirrors being 'still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back my too-sudden image.' And who cannot but sigh at the at once forlorn yet hopeful sentiment expressed in the lines, 'Who knows? Perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us yesterday, separate, in the evening....' I'm not well-versed in all of Rilke's works, but this makes me a real fan. (Report) Reply

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