The Panther and other poems
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly--.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Love Song

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn't touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn't resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin's bow,
which draws
one voice out of two separate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

(Translator unknown)

I live my life in growing orbits

I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

The Song the Widow Sings

At first life was good to me.
It kept me warm, it gave me courage.
Of course it does that to all the young,
but how could I have known that?
I had no idea what life was—
suddenly it was nothing but year after year,
not good anymore, not fresh anymore, not wonderful anymore,
as if torn in two pieces down the center.

It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t mine;
neither of us had much except patience,
and death didn’t have any.
I saw him come (what an ugly sight),
and I watched him, while he took and took:
of course what he took wasn’t mine.

What did belong to me then, what did I have that was mine?
Wasn’t even my grief
only a loan from Fate?
Fate wants not only the happiness,
he wants the pain and the screaming back,
and he buys it all secondhand.

Fate was there and got for almost nothing
every expression on my face,
everything except the way I walk.
Every day he had a clearance sale,
and when I was empty, he walked out
and left the door open.