The Departure of the Prodigal Son


Now to go away from all this tangledness
that is part of us and yet not ours,
that like the water in old wells
reflects us trembling and ruins the image;
from all this, which as if with thorns
still clings to us – to go away,
and on this and this, so near at hand,
which almost from the first you ceased to see
(they were so common, so undemanding),
suddenly to gaze: tenderly, full of amends,
as if in a beginning and from up close:
and to see at last how without lease malice,
how over everyone indifferently the hurt descends
that filled childhood to the brim – :
and then still to go, hand leaving hand,
as if you were tearing open a new-healed wound,
and to go away: where? Into uncertainty,
far into some unrelated warm land
that behind all action keeps its distance
like a backdrop – garden or wall;
and to go away: why? From urge, from instinct,
from impatience, from dark expectation,
from not understanding and not being understood:

To take all this upon yourself and in vain
perhaps to let fall things firmly held,
in order to die alone, not knowing why –

Is this how new life begins?



New Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke, 1907, translated by Edward Snow



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