Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been spending some time reading about Rainer Maria Rilke, a poet whose poems I have never loved as much as critics and other readers.

I have read his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God which was inspired by a trip to Russia where he found a “spirituality he encountered there.” Back in Germany, he set down what he felt were “spontaneously received prayers.”

The other book I have is The Duino Elegies which is often described as “ecstatic.” It was inspired by a trip to Italy, but he wrote it in Switzerland where he spent the last years of his life.

I find his life interesting though and that did send me back to read more of the poems. I know lots of writers list his Letters to a Young Poet as a life-changer. The book I read most recently is about him and is also some of his poems.

A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke is a reading from Rilke for every day of the year, including poetry, prose and his letters and journals. Not a book of hours, but a book of days, which slips nicely on a virtual shelf with this website.

Rilke is far more concerned with achieving intimacy with God, or the divine, than I am. That’s a relationship I don’t find to be reciprocal, but I can be interested in his quest.

My little Rilke poem on this site was inspired by a cliff walk I took and by Rilke’s poem below.


A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

it has inner light, even from a distance –

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,

into something else, which, hardly sensing it,

we already are; a gesture waves us on

answering our own wave…

but what we feel is the wind in our faces.



The poem, “Mindful,” by Mary Oliver is a better explanation of, or at least part of an explanation for, my motivation for doing this daily poetry practice – the joy I find every day in some thing, perhaps rather small, that I feel some need to record so that I will remember it in times when things seem less joyful.

The poem comes from her collection, Why I Wake Early, whose title fits right into the William Stafford writing practice that also inspired my project. She writes about the outdoors – crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears and deer – and that is at least a third of what I expect my poems to have as inspiration. But I will be less disciplined about waking up early.

Now, I have been writing here for only a week, and I don’t know if I can sustain the practice every day for an entire year. But, I know it is more pleasurable than resolving to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time online or any other of the common New Year’s boxes that so many people put themselves into in January.


I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early