Friday, April 9, 2010

For National Poetry Month: Rainer Maria Rilke's "The Portal"

Another poem for National Poetry Month: this one is from Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.  I mentioned two days ago that Edna St. Vincent Millay was generally known to friends as Vincent.  It’s interesting to note that Rilke was called Maria by his mother, who dressed him in girls’ clothes, throughout his childhood.

Poets have souls skilled at dressing in the clothes of the other.

The following is an excerpt from Rilke’s poem “The Portal,” which is part of his cathedral series of the first decade of the 20th century, written after he first visited the cathedral of Chartres.  Here, he reflects on what he encounters when he walks from the sunlit, busy external world into the silent, dark emptiness of the cathedral:

So much distance is meant by it:
just as with the backdrop of a scene
the world is meant; and as through that scene
the hero strides, cloaked in his action’s mantle: —

so the darkness of this doorway strides acting
onto the tragic theater of its depths,
as boundlessly and seething as God the Father
and just as He transforming wondrously

into a Son, who is distributed here
among many small, almost unspeaking roles,
all taken from misery’s repertoire.

For it’s only (this we know) from 
the blind, the cast-out, and the mad
that, like a great actor, the Saviour emerges.

Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems [1907], trans. Edward Snow (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984).