The Bowl of Roses


You’ve seen caged anger flare, seen two boys
roll themselves up into a knot
of pure hatred, writhing on the ground
like an animal attacked by bees;
you’ve seen actors, giant exaggerators,
careening horses crashing down,
flinging their eyes away, baring their teeth
as if their skulls were peeling through their mouths.

But now you see how such things vanish:
for before you stands the full bowl of roses,
which is unforgettable, and wholly filled
with that utmost of being and bending,
of offering up, beyond power to give, of presence,
that might be ours – our utmost as well.

Life lived in quietness, endless opening out,
space being used without space being taken
from the space adjacent things diminish,
outline just hinted at, like ground left blank
and pure withinness, much so strangely soft
and self-illuminating – out to the edge:
do we know anything like this?

And like this: that a feeling arises,
because flower-petals touch flower-petals?
And this: that one opens like an eye,
and beneath it lie eyelid after eyelid,
all tightly closed, as if through tenfold sleep
they might curb an inner power of sight.
And this above all: that through these petals
light must pass. From a thousand skies
they slowly filter out that drop of darkness
in whose fiery glow the tangled mass
of stamens bestirs itself and grows erect.

And the movement of the roses, look:
gestures from vibrations so minute
that they’d remain invisible, did not
their rays fan into the universe.

Look at that white one, blissfully opened
and standing there amidst its spread of petals
like a Venus balanced on her seashell;
and the blushing one, which as if flustered
turns across to one that is cool,
and how the cool one aloofly withdraws,
and how that cold one stands, wrapped in itself,
among the open ones, that shed everything.
And what they shed: how it can be
at once light and heavy, a cloak, a burden,
a wing and a mask – it all depends –
and how they shed it: as before a lover.

What can’t they be: was that yellow one,
that lies there hollow and open, not the rind
of a fruit in which the very same yellow,
intenser, orange-redder, was juice?
And was mere opening too much for this one,
since touched by air its nameless pink
has taken on the bitter aftertaste of lilac?
And that cambric one, is it not a dress
in which the shift still clings, soft and breath-warm,
both of them cast off together
in the morning shadows of the old woodland pool?
And this one, opalescent porcelain,
fragile, a shallow china cup
and full of tiny bright butterflies,
and that one, containing nothing but itself.

And aren’t all that way: simply self-containing,
if self-containing means: to transform the world outside
and wind and rain and the patience of spring
and guilt and restlessness and muffled fate
and the darkness of the evening earth
out to the roaming and flying and fleeing of the clouds
and the vague influence of distant stars
into a handful of inwardness.

Now it lies carefree in these open roses.


Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems, 1907. Translated by Edward Snow



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