Rainer Maria Rilke: “Death”


We know nothing about this sudden leaving
that shares nothing with us. We have no way
(neither astonishment nor joy nor grieving)
to articulate Death, whom our masks convey

only by disfiguring him in tragic thought.
And meanwhile, the world has its roles to fill in.
And we insist that, whether he likes it or not,
Death play with us, though he plays the villain.

But when you went, there fell upon this scene
a thin strip of reality that managed to pass
through the hole you left: a strip so green,
as trees in the sunshine, as meadows of grass.

We continue our drama. We practice persistence
in mastering gestures. We learn how to say
what is difficult to say. And still your existence
from afar pulls us out of the play

and tears into us with a gaze so surely
fixed on reality and all of its laws,
that for a while, we come to play at life purely,
absorbed, not waiting for any applause.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from German by Paul Weinfield, © 2015
Image by Sarah Jarrett

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