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Susan McLean 08-23-2019 10:59 AM

Rilke, The Angel
The Angel
by Rainer Maria Rilke

With just a tilting of his brow, he sends
far from him what inhibits and compels,
for through his heart, immensely lifted, swells
the everlasting Coming, circling round.

The depths of heaven face him, filled with shapes,
and each may beckon to him: come and know—.
Give him no burdens of your own to grasp
with his light hands, or they might come to you

at night, to test you with a wrestling hold,
might rampage through your house as though irate,
might seize on you as if they would create
you over, and might break you from your mold.

S1L4 "Coming" was "coming"
S2L2 italicized "come and know--"
S2L3-4 was "Don’t give his light hands anything to grasp / of loads you bear."
S2L4 "loads" was "what"

Previous S2L4 to end was:
with his light hands. Or else they'll come to you

at night, to test you with a wrestling hold,
to rampage through your house as though irate,
to seize on you as if they would create
you over, and to break you from your mold.

S2L4 was "with his light hands, lest they should come to you"
S3L2-4 "might" was "should"

Der Engel

Mit einem Neigen seiner Stirne weist
er weit von sich was einschränkt und verpflichtet;
denn durch sein Herz geht riesig aufgerichtet
das ewig Kommende das kreist.

Die tiefen Himmel stehn ihm voll Gestalten,
und jede kann ihm rufen: komm, erkenn -.
Gieb seinen leichten Händen nichts zu halten
aus deinem Lastenden. Sie kämen denn

bei Nacht zu dir, dich ringender zu prüfen,
und gingen wie Erzürnte durch das Haus
und griffen dich als ob sie dich erschüfen
und brächen dich aus deiner Form heraus.

Literal translation:
The Angel

With a tilt of his brow, he sends
far from him what limits and obligates,
because through his heart goes, hugely uplifted,
the eternal coming that circles.

The deep heavens stand before him full of shapes,
and each can call out to him: come, know—.
Give his light hands nothing to hold
of your burdens. Because they'll come

at night to you, to test you more wrenchingly,
and go like one incensed through the house
and grip you as if they were creating you
and break you out of your mold.

Julie Steiner 08-23-2019 07:46 PM

Hey, Susan!

I wonder if "Advent" (capitalized) would be more evocative than "coming" (not capitalized). Or if you want to be more theologically ambiguous, just capitalizing "Coming"? (I do think Rilke is talking about the Second Coming, the approach of the divine, as an ongoing thing, not something that has not yet begun.)

I would encourage you to try to work "burdens" in there--"what you bear" doesn't have the same impact.

The final stanza refers pretty clearly to Genesis 32:22-32, as I'm sure you're aware. Reframing the hip injury as breaking a mold is a startlingly apropos connection, I think. Also interesting that it seems to be the burdens, not the angel, wrestling the "you" of the poem at night.

Susan McLean 08-23-2019 10:30 PM

Julie, I think "Advent" might be ambiguous, but I have taken your suggestion of capitalizing "Coming," because I do think the Second Coming is being referenced. I suspect that Rilke is implying that the angel already senses the Second Coming as if it is happening. Perhaps the idea is that time is not really a linear experience for an angel. I have also taken your suggestion to make "what you bear" into "loads you bear," so as to be more specific. Though it is puzzling when Rilke switches from "he" to "they" in talking about the angel, I see that as a related issue. If angels are outside of time, perhaps they also are outside of the whole singular/plural distinction. But I do not think that Rilke is implying that you are wrestling the "burdens." His take on Biblical stories is always interesting and original, but I feel certain that contact with the supernatural is implied there.


Julie Steiner 08-24-2019 02:14 AM

Oh! Now I think that it's the hands that will come for you at night, not the burdens. The order of those nouns tripped me up. It might be worth playing around with ways to flip-flop them--something like

Do not confide your burdens to the grasp
of his light hands. Or else they'll come for you....

The singular/plural distinction is famously suspended with Eloyhim and the multi-winged cherubim and seraphim, but I think the plural here is for the hands, not the angel.

What about italics for the direct discourse? (I wondered about italics for the end of "The Elopement," too, when the still, small voice of God--as I imagine it to be--is speaking to the runaway at the center of her nested layers of privacy--coach, hood, hair.)

I'm struggling to picture the angel doing things "with just the tilt of his brow." Could Rilke mean that the Angel is making stuff happen with just the nod of his head?

Susan McLean 08-24-2019 09:10 AM

Julie, I think you are right about the hands, so I have rewritten S2L3-4 to bring "hands" closer to "they." I don't see any direct discourse in this poem. In "The Elopement" I am pretty sure that the voice of the stranger at the end is not God but the person she is eloping with, who now feels like a complete stranger to her. I may change the quotation marks to italics in that poem. I think the tilting brow does imply a nod of the head, not a raised eyebrow, but I hesitate to change "brow" to "head." I also thought that "nod" might imply assent, whereas the line suggests dismissal.


Julie Steiner 08-24-2019 11:27 AM

I saw the nod a commander gives to underlings, to set plans in action. But he might be simply tilting his head back to look at the heavens, from a vantage point on earth. (It seems odd to me that his vantage point is earth, but if he's got the Second Coming running through his heart, maybe that makes a sort of space/time logic.)

A lot of this eludes me. If it weren't for the final stanza, I would say that the Angel here is actually a human astronomer/astrologer, to whom the shapes in the heavens (the signs of the zodiac) are saying "come and know--". That would presumably make the protagonist of the poem a messenger (the literal meaning of "angel") passing along wisdom from the heavens, perhaps to a ruler who decides war and peace based on that counsel. But I can't reconcile that with the physical, one-on-one personal, Genesis-derived imagery of S3, which certainly seems theological and literally angelic. I dunno. I'll think about it some more.

You don't see the "come and know--" as direct discourse?

I had some more thoughts on "The Elopement" that I stuck in that thread.

Julie Steiner 08-24-2019 12:33 PM

Maybe it's not the Second Coming at all. Could "the eternal coming that circles" just be the zodiac, eternally advancing? References to the zodiac circling are not all that uncommon. Nor are references to the constellations as "shapes" or "forms."

Susan McLean 08-24-2019 01:03 PM

Julie, I had missed that "come and know--" was direct address. I have now italicized it. I am still resisting "nod" because it has its own ambiguities, as in the phrase "even Homer nods," which implies that he is sleepy and careless. I see the tilt of the brow as not so much a nod as a tilting sideways movement of the head, implying "get out of here." Here is what I assume is going on in the poem. The angel is opposed to anything that closes off possibilities. He sees the Second Coming as something that is happening now, and he demands total openness from others. Anyone who calls out to the angel for understanding and sympathy, help with their own petty burdens of living, is likely to get more than they bargained for. When they attract the angel's attention, he comes and wrestles with them to break them wide open. Rilke is constantly going for these "you must change your life" moments, often triggered by something that is beyond the human. Rilke is in favor of them.


Julie Steiner 08-24-2019 01:47 PM

Would "or else they'll come for you" be too much of a departure from "or else they'll come to you"? It would certainly sound more ominous.

Susan McLean 08-24-2019 03:26 PM

Julie, "zu dir" means "to you" or "towards you," so I don't think I can stretch it to mean "for you," which to me implies that they are going to take you away. You are right that "come for you" sounds more ominous. I'm just not sure that it is the right tone for this.


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