I hadn't read Rilke in years. And then, wonderfully, I pulled this hitherto unopened translation off my shelves, and rediscovered what so moved me in his poetry when I was a young man. Rilke has the true poet's gift of seeing more deeply into the fabric of existence than most of us, and the ability to invite us to look a bit more closely. He hints, insinuates, teases, and almost always illuminates.
I particularly love this book because Rilke, in keeping with the tradition of love mysticism, wants to suggest that there's no fundamental difference between the intense yearning for another person and the intense yearning for God. As the poet/narrator tells a young monk struggling with passions of the flesh, "now, like a whispering in dark streets/rumors of God run through your dark blood." Love of God and love of humans are both erotic inasmuch as they involve the entire person, mind, soul, and body. To long for the beloved is necessarily a sensual experience. Moreover, reminiscent of the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, Rilke holds that God erotically yearns for us as much as we yearn for God. One of my favorite poems in the book, "Was wirst du tun, Gott, wenn ich sterbe?", hauntingly worries about the devastatinig effect the poet/narrator's death will have upon God the Lover:
What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?
...What will you do, God? I am afraid.