Rainer Maria Rilke

(4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926 / Prague / Czech Republic)

Self-Portrait


The steadfastness of generations of nobility
shows in the curving lines that form the eyebrows.
And the blue eyes still show traces of childhood fears
and of humility here and there, not of a servant's,
yet of one who serves obediantly, and of a woman.
The mouth formed as a mouth, large and accurate,
not given to long phrases, but to express
persuasively what is right. The forehead without guile
and favoring the shadows of quiet downward gazing.

This, as a coherent whole, only casually observed;
never as yet tried in suffering or succeeding,
held together for an enduring fulfillment,
yet so as if for times to come, out of these scattered things,
something serious and lasting were being planned.


Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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  • Andrew Hoellering (1/13/2010 8:20:00 AM)

    The external features of the self-portrait resemble photos of Rilke.
    The noble family lineage, as with Churchill, brings confidence and the ambition to succeed.
    The childhood fears are endearing, as is the calm humility and conciseness of one who follows where his art leads, in the service of truth as he sees it.
    It’s unclear to what ‘succeeding’ (second line of the sestet) refers in this translation, possibly to the remarkable poetic works that Rilke is already planning. (Report) Reply

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