First Elegy from the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

I have always enjoyed the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, though I only read him in translation, especially the marvelous translations of Stephen Mitchell. Here is Stephen’s rendering of the first part of the First Elegy from the Duino Elegies. If this says nothing to you about relating, about conflict, read it again….or maybe its just my lenses…

The First Elegy from the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell from the German original


Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?

And even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,

And we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware

That we are not really at home in our interpreted world.
Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take into our vision;

There remains for us yesterday’s street and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease

When it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at our faces.
Whom would it not remain for–that longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence?

Which the solitary heart so painfully meets.
Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don’t you know yet?
Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;

Perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Rainer: See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainer_Maria_Rilke

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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