Avatar photo

Two Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Departures from the German by Steven Cramer

These “departures” repurpose originals from Rilke’s New Poems (1907/08) both stylistically and thematically, compressing each stanza by a line’s-worth and using, wherever possible, active verbs instead of the adjectives and adverbs so profuse in Englished Rilke.




The avenue’s green shadows clung to him
like a dark coat he kept needing to adjust;
while off at the far end, where sunlight

turned the windows lime, a white shape
flashed and, for a time, remained shapeless,
then walked into what looked like rapids
of light roiling at each step taken, now

afloat, as on a current, but also oddly shy,
like the blond wake down a woman’s back.
By the time the green went dark, they stood

face to face—no, on second thought, eye
to eye, their two self-portraits one, in one
instant of time—before they turned away.

A departure from Rilke





 A lamp stares at my drafts and fragments.
Outside dark gets in and blinds my books.
I could search sex, but what’s the difference
between sex and screen sex?  The more sex
I screen, the more I lust for more screens.

Wall #1:  a couple of empty chairs stand
tall as Napoleon; my couch’s self-esteem
manspreads the length of Wall #2. Time
drips—as if through fine-ground coffee—
on the wincing clock and prods its hands.

So long, Time; time to change my sheets,
clammy as the shroud tugged off a body.
Who’s come so close that I’m whispering?
“You wrote me such lovely love letters,
since you knew me best,” I say out loud—
slap-happily whacking dust from our bed.
The mirror, though, window into forever,
parts its curtain, raises a shade; and what’s
in there—my ghost?—begins getting ready.

A departure from Rilke




Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) like his near-contemporary, W.B. Yeats (1865–1939), modernized his poetry from the otherworldly “twilit” style of his early poems to the sharp-edged imageries of his late work. His New Poems (1907/08)—from which these departures derive—are widely praised as his first fully mature lyrics.



Steven Cramer’s seventh poetry collection, Departures from Rilke, will be published by Arrowsmith Press in October 2023. His previous books include Listen (MadHat Press, 2020), named a “must read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book; Clangings (Sarabande Books, 2012); and Goodbye to the Orchard (Sarabande Books, 2004), a Sheila Motton Prize-winner and a Massachusetts Honor Book. He founded and currently teaches in Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Join the conversation