After Rilke: Visitation of the Virgin



Selected poems



After Rilke's Marienleben: Annunciation to Mary

Understand: not that she was unnerved

By the angel. As much as some others begin

When a pillar of moonlight beams through

Any curtained room, illuminating dust

Particles in the air, would Mary have been

Made perturbed by the image the angel chose

By which to be made visible. Could Mary

Divine how dull, how monochromatic, lingering

Here can be? (Ah, if we just knew how

Undeniably pure she was! Fabled, once,

When resting, the mythological beast spied her

In the woods and looking lost itself until it could —

Without any coupling with its own kind —

Conceived the genuine animal, the unicorn,

The creature of light.) Though he entered not,

But that he bent his head in deference, so close

To her, this young man, this particular angel,

Joined with her in their gaze of each other,

As her eyes just glanced up, as if all around

Them became void, and what untold numbers

Saw, exhibited, suffered, appeared to be

Forced within them: only herself and him —

The perceived and the perceiver, the eye itself

And the delight of the eye, absolutely nowhere

Else but here in only this place. See it!

How frightening this is! How afraid they both are!


Then out of the angel's mouth poured melodious song.




After Rilke's Marienleben: Visitation of the Virgin

Like the inscription of an initial letter,

It went smoothly for her, but often in scaling

A rise, the wonder momentarily flashed

Throughout her body, and breathlessly

She straightened herself upon the towering,


Windswept Judean hills. Not by the sheer

Vista below could her abundance ever be

Measured; striding, with each step she believed

No one could transcend the largesse she carried.


She needed to place her hand upon Elisabeth's

Body, which was even riper than hers,

And they both doddered toward the other

To stroke one another's robes and unpinned hair.


Each, with a sanctum within her reserve,

Found asylum with their most immediate female

Relation. Oh, the Savior in her was in blossom,

But the ecstatic that already stirred in her cousin's

Womb kindled the diminutive Baptist into kicking.




After Rilke's Marienleben: Birth of Christ

If you hadn't possessed simplicity, then how

Could this occur to you which illumines the darkest night?

God, who thundered over all peoples, now

Recreates himself with tenderness and shines within you


To light the world. Did you conceive of him possibly any greater?


But what is greatness? Straight through to the very core

Of matter where he passes moves his absolute providence.

Not even a star possesses the arc of such a highway.

Know these kings are great.


They heave before your lap


Treasures which they discern as nonpareil,

And perhaps you are even amazed at such gifts —

But look here in the folds of your shawl

How Jesus has surpassed them all.


All amber that ships freight from afar,


Such golden ornaments and extravagant spices

Occlude the senses: yet

All these were evanescent by comparison,

And ultimately one has little remaining but regret.


But — we all will soon come to know it — it is He that brings rapture.



Wally SwistWally Swist's books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder, and Candling the Eggs.

Rilke's Das Marienleben (The Life of the Virgin Mary) is a 13 part sequence that the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rilke wrote in the early part of the 20th century. The small book sold some 50,000 copies in Germany, before the Great War. Wally Swist's translations of the whole sequence, of which a selection is published above, will appear in his forthcoming book, The Bees of the Invisible.

Topic tags: poetry, Wally Swist, Rilke



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Existing comments

atherisch. danke.

Pam | 01 July 2019  

What a marvellous vision, beautifully described pictures in words.

Pauline | 02 July 2019  

How theologically pregnant, especially the lines:""God, who thundered over all peoples, now/ Recreates himself with tenderness and shines within you/ To light the world. . ." - Food for the soul!

John RD | 02 July 2019  

Thank you so much my dear Wally.., I really like it and enjoy it.., you made my day.

Mohammed Al-Jermozi | 10 July 2019  

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