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RAINER MARIA RILKE  
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The Panther (“Der Panther”)
(trans. by Robert Bly)

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
That it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
Bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
Which circles down to the tiniest hub
Is like a dance of energy around a point
In which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
Without a sound…then a shape enters,
Slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
Reaches the heart, and dies.

[Original:

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
So müd geworden, dass er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
Und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritts,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein grosser Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
Sich lautlos auf—.  Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.]

[On “The Panther”:  In September 1905, Rilke went to work for Rodin as his secretary.  After a time Rilke confessed that he had not been writing.  Rodin suggested he go to the zoo.  He should look at an animal until he sees it.  Several weeks might not be enough.  Rilke went to the zoo and saw a panther, then wrote this poem.  It was the first of a series in which Rilke tried to see the inner life of objects, to capture a static image with its life emerging from within.]

 

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Last Updated: Tue, June 27, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.