Der Schwan (The Swan)

by Rilke

The poetry of Rilke (1875 – 1926) often deals with human relationship to God and other transcendental subjects from an intensely introspective and personal point of view. In this highly original poem he uses the metaphor of the swan to present death as a positive and ennobling force. It is an idea which will jar with many, but Rilke handles it with great beauty. The reader is Tatjana Pisarski and the English translation is by Westbrook.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes
schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehn,
gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.

Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehn,
seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen —:

in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen,
unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut;
während er unendlich still und sicher
immer mündiger und königlicher
und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

This travail, pressing forward through the still undone, heavy and hindered as though by bonds, is just like the ungainly walking of the swan.

And dying, this end of further hold on that ground on which we stand from day to day, just like his anxious lowering himself – :

into the waters, which receive him gently, and which as though subsiding in delight beneath him draw back wave after wave; while he, unendingly silent and secure, ever more mature and kingly, more serenely deigns to glide.

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