from Requiem for a Friend
(Paula Modersohn-Becker 1876-1907)
...That is what you understood: the ripe fruits.
You placed them in bowls there in front of you
and weighed out their heaviness with pigments.
And so you saw women as fruits too,
and saw the children likewise, driven
from inside into the forms of their being.
And you saw yourself in the end as a fruit,
removed yourself from your clothes, brought
yourself in front of the mirror, allowed yourself
within, as far as your gaze that stayed huge outside
and did not say: ‘I am that’: no, rather: ‘this is.’
So your gaze was finally free of curiosity
and so un-possessive, of such real poverty,
it no longer desired self: was sacred.
So I’ll remember you, as you placed yourself
within the mirror, deep within and far
from all. Why do you appear otherwise?
What do you countermand in yourself? Why
do you want me to believe that in the amber beads
at your throat there was still some heaviness
of that heaviness that never exists in the other-side
calm of paintings: why do you show me
an evil presentiment in your stance:
what do the contours of your body mean,
laid out like the lines on a hand,
so that I no longer see them except as fate?
Come here, to the candlelight. I’m not afraid
to look on the dead. When they come
they too have the right to hold themselves out
to our gaze, like other Things.
Come here: we’ll be still for a while.
See this rose, close by on my desk:
isn’t the light around it precisely as hesitant
as that over you: it too shouldn’t be here.
Outside in the garden, unmixed with me,
it should have remained or passed –
now it lives, so: what is my consciousness to it?
Don’t be afraid if I understand now, ah,
it climbs in me: I can do no other,
I must understand, even if I die of it.
Understand, that you are here. I understand.
Just as a blind man understands a Thing,
I feel your fate and do not know its name
Let us grieve together that someone drew you
out of your mirror. Can you still weep?
Rainer Maria Rilke 1909
trans. A.S. Kline
This poem is Rilke's reflection on the death of his friend, whom Adrienne Rich chose in the last selection. The entire poem may be found in a book or, in this translation at the following website:
Unlike Rich's treatment, Rilke explores the play between living and dying, between presence and absence, the realtively sensed reality of our own lives, the suffering held in them, interiority...