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RilkeRené Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926)—better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, “widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets”, writing in both verse and highly lyrical prose. Several critics have described Rilke’s work as inherently “mystical”. His writings include one novel, several collections of poetry, and several volumes of correspondence in which he invokes haunting images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety (italics MINE!). These deeply existential themes tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist writers.

This piece is from Rilke’s Book of Hours. While visiting Russia during his twenties, Rilke was moved by a simple spirituality he found there. Inspired, he returned to Germany and began to write what he felt were spontaneously received prayers. I can’t really give references to where the pieces are from as not all books are the same and it is usually translated from the German into one long work. But in the book I have it is on page 165 (Rilke’s Book of Hours translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, Riverhead Books, paperback)



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~No one lives his life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Disguised since childhood,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~haphazardly assembled
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~from voices and fears and little pleasures,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~we come of age as masks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Our true face never speaks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Somewhere there must be storehouses
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~where all these lives are laid away
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~like suits of armor or old carriages
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~or clothes hanging limply on the walls.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Maybe all paths lead there,
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~to the repository of unlived things.