The Swan

I’ve started The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, the first book of Rilke’s I’ve ever read. I’m amazed at how similar it is to ee cummings. But the poem below, about gracefully accepting the possibility of death, stopped me in my tracks.

I often say that I like, but don’t love, poetry (Eliot excepted). If The Swan is any indication, this may change soon.

(An aside: the translation (by Stephen Mitchell) in the sixth line (“Like anxious letting himself fall”) seems awkward. Robert Bly’s version makes more sense (“when he nervously lets himself down”), but the rest of his translation seems clumsy, inelegant.)

The Swan

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying –  to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day –
is like anxious letting himself fall 

into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

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