Rainer Maria Rilke

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

Black Cat - Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Comments about Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke

  • Rod Mendieta (12/31/2016 12:38:00 PM)

    Gender confusion
    As to the gender confusion mentioned below, bear in mind only that cat is a feminine noun in German and the original title is Schwartze Katze, with the e ending on the adjective schwartz denoting the female gender, as opposed to the er ending on male adjectives, e.g., schwartzer Mann. (Report) Reply

    6 person liked.
    6 person did not like.
  • Rajnish Manga (7/8/2016 2:30:00 AM)

    The superstitions often linked with cats have been superbly portrayed by the poet. The expression is extremely captivating. I would like to quote a few lines as under:
    you see yourself, tiny,
    inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
    suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
    (Report) Reply

  • (8/25/2015 10:12:00 AM)

    Great poem. Cats have been associated and are considered to be the carrier of dark mysteries of life. Seeing the reflection of your own self in cat's eye is like seeing that part of your self which is mysterious, elusive yet influencing our good and evil tendencies in the deepest part of our consciousness. (Report) Reply

  • (8/25/2015 10:07:00 AM)

    An episode on human woes may be the theme and this is a good poem that I felt. (Report) Reply

  • Daniel Brick (8/25/2015 5:11:00 AM)

    There's startling irony in the gender confusion below: Rilke's mother treated him as a female child until his father aggressively put a stop to it - but the Austrian custom of applying the Virgin's name to children of both genders is also confusing. But on a psychic level, Rilke's deepest Self embodied both sexes in a complex psychology of wholeness. This is the reason he could not only bear solitude but thrive in its envelopment of his self. Robert Hass has suggested Rilke was his own interiority, whereas the rest of us have some mysterious other parallel to our self there, THERE ALL BARREL HOOPS ARE KNIT, THERE ALL SERPENT TAILS ARE BIT, THERE ALL GYRES CONVERGE IN ONE, THERE ALL PLANETS DROP INTO THE SUN. And thus the Original U-N-I-T-Y is
    affirmed. This is either just a Game of Words, or a profound STILL POINT in every psyche.
    (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (8/25/2015 4:48:00 AM)

    Like a prehistoric fly! Nice work. (Report) Reply

  • Alpeshkumar Natubhai Makvana (8/25/2015 4:34:00 AM)

    its true that cats are sullen, lazy, and less loyal than dogs. (Report) Reply

    Rod Mendieta Rod Mendieta (12/31/2016 11:35:00 AM)

    You don't get cats. Nothing wrong with being a dog person though, but you might enrich your life by trying to look at the world through the eyes of a cat.

  • Ramesh T A (8/25/2015 2:26:00 AM)

    Ghost and its activities are well expressed in this poem based on his own experience perhaps! (Report) Reply

  • Kim Barney (8/25/2015 12:53:00 AM)

    Wow! Terrific! That last verse is especially superb and ends the poem beautifully. This is going to my favorites list. (Report) Reply

  • Brian Jani (6/20/2014 11:15:00 AM)

    Wow, i never thought of poetry in such a way; this poem is just superb (Report) Reply

  • (9/30/2006 3:46:00 PM)

    Love that twisty ending; reminiscent of 'The Panther”—only rather than the cat caught in the center of man’s confinement, it is man reduced and trapped within the eternal gaze of the cat. So what was it with Rilke and black cats, anyway? And here she takes the role of a kind of innocuous black hole, absorbing without comment whatever he brings her, until that time when she turns her head and—there you are. Sinister! I rated this little gem a 10.
    ; -)
    (Report) Reply

    Kim Barney Kim Barney (8/25/2015 12:51:00 AM)

    She is not a she. Rilke was a man.

Read all 13 comments »

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Read poems about / on: sleep, dark, cat, night, howl

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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