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Annunciation by Rilke

December 11, 2016

Translated by Anna Staples

This poem is a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Verkündigung,” from the Book of Images.

Playful and poignant, the poem envisions the confusion of the angel Gabriel in the presence of Mary, as he forgets his message and is overwhelmed with the immediacy of Mary herself.

You’re not more near to God than we.
To Him all things are far.
And yet your hands — how wondrously
Grown full of grace they are.
Such hands by woman never grew
So ripe, so fulsomely.
I am the day, I am the dew:
You are the tree.

I’m weary now (such leagues I’ve come!),
Forgive me, I’ve forgot
What he who sat within the sun
Told me to speak about:
He said to say to you who sense —
But space unsettles me.
Look: I am the Beginning, hence —
You are the tree.

I lifted up my wings abroad,
And spanned a mighty space;
And now my garments overflow
Your little dwelling-place.
And still you sit here so forlorn,
And hardly look at me.
I’m merely wind among the thorns:
You are the tree.

All angels are as shy as this,
And let each other be.
And yet I’ve never felt before
Desire so mightily.
Perhaps—perhaps It has occurred,
What you have dreamed and guessed.
All Hail, for now my soul beholds
How ripe you are at last!
You are a high and mighty Door
And soon will open wide.
You are the Wood, the sweetest ear
To which I sing; and yet I fear
My songs are lost inside.

And so I’ve come. A thousand dreams
Are now fulfilled through me.
God looked at me, the lightning flashed —

You are the Tree.

Questions:

  1. Contrast the theological particulars of this poem with its sensibility. Which is more powerful?
  2. Who is the Tree? Why is this an appropriate image?
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