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Two Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from the French by Susanne Petermann


Child at the Window

A child watches out the window for his mother.
The hour is endless….never before has he felt
such aching in his soul.

All these passing strangers, one the same
as the next.  It isn’t really their fault
if they don’t measure up.

His eyes search everywhere, finding nothing
but the absence of the one, the only one
he calls “maman.”


The Refugees

Child, let’s stop and rest a while,
the night is dark and rainy.

We’re all alone, without a home,
the dangers here are many.

A song! A song!

What shall I sing?  There is no song
can stop the rising sea.
Don’t you feel it closing in,
stalking us like prey!

Please, sing to me, Papa, please!

A song about what, the plucky days
of glory and courage and war?
This rutted road that hurts our feet
with all its stones and thorns?

No, Papa, sing me a song!

Alright, I’ll build a song in your ear
like a lovely ship in a bottle,
enclosing each delicate mast and spar
to keep it from wind and weather

as it sails in your sunny heart forever.

Susanne Petermann is a Southern Oregon poet who has published her poems and translations in various revues.  Her book of translations, When I Go, Selected French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke was published by Cascade Books.  A graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, she spent a decade traveling and studying language in Europe, and teaching English in Morocco before moving to the West Coast of the U.S.

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague, 1875.  Beginning in his teenage years, he expressed his love, longing and pain in poetry, essays, even plays and a novel.  Suffering from leukemia at the end of his life, he wrote poems in French, having become disenchanted with the German language and culture after WWI.  He died at age 51, having written his last poem only days earlier.

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