You Who Never Arrived by Rainer Maria Rilke

I was introduced to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke through his Duino Elegies, as analysed by James Hollis in his book “The Archetypal Imagination”.

Hollis is a Jungian analyst, and the chapter on Rilke begins with Hollis writing:

What we wish most to know, most desire, remains unknowable and lies beyond our grasp. In this chapter we will celebrate the power of speech to assist us in our task of articulating this deep longing”.

I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the chapter to try to summarise it here, but my new-found love of Rilke’s poetry led me to a poem of his that Hollis did not allude to; the author is focusing primarily on Rilke’s mystical longing for glimpses of the divine world and how Rilke’s poetry illustrates the capacity of the archetypal imagination to “name the gods” by providing images “which link us to the numinous”.

This poem, however, illustrates Rilke’s versatility, that he understood that we live in the ‘space between words’ and that his ability as a poet was not solely to ‘bring us closer to the sacred’ but also to render the invisible world accessible.

You Who Never Arrived

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods–
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house– , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,–
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening…

Rainer Maria Rilke
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