Rainer Maria Rilke
Testament (Tr. from the German by Pierre Joris)

To grasp his situation at the close of that winter, one has to look back to the summer of nineteen fourteen. The outbreak of the foul war which disfigured the world for the span of many human lifetimes, kept him from returning to that incomparable city to which he owed the greatest part of his possibilities. There now began an endless waiting period in a country with which he was connected only through the language—though, having lived in many different countries, he had made even that language serve his innermost tasks to such an extent that for some time now he was permitted to consider it the pure and independent material of his creations.

The relation to that friend, in whose special abilities he had also hoped to find the doctor he needed so badly at the time, had grown weaker and all but disappeared on the day this man—so strangely and totally devoted to his profession-suddenly died of total exhaustion.

The sole attempt to resume his labors, interrupted when he had been so completely divested of his natural life, came to a sudden end when he was drafted into a Landswehr regiment, imposing on him the duress of a repulsive and now all the more wasted stay in the capital of the country with authority over him. Released after many months from these idle duties, he returned to the domicile of his waiting, but lacked that inner clarity and freedom by which alone his indescribable work could blossom. He was furthermore reluctant to adulterate it in any way with the malevolent calamity of those painful years: at least that is how he excused his inactivity in several letters where he admitted that he felt like a child who did not want to touch its favorite things so long as it was tortured by toothaches.

Finally, by the time the war had shifted over into the diffuse disorder of revolutionary seizures, an inanity he had managed somehow to keep at bay by translating Mallarmé, he succeeded, thanks to an invitation to lecture, to escape the by now totally despised city and his apartment there-so plagued by visits from strangers and vague acquaintances that it had nearly become a public place—following the welcome call to another country which, furthermore, had remained neutral and helpful throughout the confusion of the past few years. It was, however, the very landscape through which, returning by train from southern regions, he had traveled earlier, often behind intentionally drawn curtains: so much did something in his nature contradict the pathetic, though simultaneously sober, mountainousness that had made it famous for previous generations. It was this country which now offered itself to him through that obliging invitation in addition to offering hospitality at one of its lakes.

However, this new sojourn beyond the previously intolerable borders also turned into a waiting period, even if a somewhat milder one. To be sure, he had been granted a measure of relief, but here too he lacked the decisive conditions necessary for that inner thoughtfulness which had to precede the constellating of his work. He kept changing residencies. Forming many new relationships was unavoidable, and even proved vaguely gratifying. The attraction that his earnest, though not fully achieved solitude occasionally exercised on various people against his will (due perhaps to a longing that constantly denied it), also led here to curious relationships in which he had to become the giving and communicating one to such an extent that the gathering of those inner resources, which eventually charges the core of one's being, was thwarted month after month.

Then, after more than a year and a half, at the start of a new winter, when it seemed that he would have to return to that derailed country which still appeared like a sickroom, overcrowded with war and the effluvia of its somber disasters-something totally unexpected occurred: he was offered a very remote old manor house, where a friendly and quiet housekeeper awaited him, and hardly had he moved in (on November 12th) when his surroundings proved themselves more pleasant and useful than he had dared expect.

The roomy, low, white-paneled study with its large old tile stove and the open fireplace besides, seemed to have been waiting only for him Without having to utter as much as a word, he was cared for from one day to the next. Just beyond the windows lay the quiet park—hornbeams, slowly shedding their leaves, bordered a broad meadow to the right and left, as well as an unframed pond, whose constantly falling fountain translated, as it were, that stillness so fulfilling for the eyes into sound. The more the park, with its several beautiful plane trees and the avenue lined with widely-spaced chestnut trees that bordered it on its open side, surrendered itself to Fall, the deeper grew the influence of the view. Without unduly narrowing the eye's need, its softly climbing meadows prepared one for the slopes of a wooded hill: and no matter how much he loved the plains, in this moment dedicated to thoughtfulness, this limitation seemed proper to him in that it corresponded, as a landscape, to the consciousness of an intérieur he hoped to intensify in himself day after day.

As far as he could remember back, he had never felt more naturally and securely sheltered; not even in that older princely castle which had played such an important role in his life and which he safeguarded deep inside him with something akin to passion, since the blind clawings of the war had razed its gigantic, seemingly imperishable walls down to their rock foundations. That castle above the sea had been spacious; the power of those times and figures, still echoing through him, presented countless challenges for a soul that had to become familiar with much that surpassed it, before being allowed to remain itself.

Here, in this small, surveyable noble estate, a less overwhelming past needed to be overcome. Rooms and corridors, unused for a long time now relative to their original intent, had a simple purpose for someone who considered them practically. There were few portraits strong enough to impose their personalities: the living one carried the day, and the objects, of a modest sort, did not demand to be entertained with more than the spontaneous overflow of his instantly grateful spirits.

So, unexpectedly saved by this refuge, could he now begin to reengage his shattered being? One would think so. How favorable the situation was for him can only be grasped on learning that just before he was to isolate himself in these new surroundings, a double, and just as unexpected, act of providence had allowed him to revisit two famous places in different countries, belonging inseparably to the history of his past. One of them was that unique city to which he owed not only his complete spiritual education, but to whose influence he also rightfully ascribed the fact that the particular sufferings and beatitudes of his being had revealed themselves to him more clearly and on a larger scale than is usual even for those of his age gifted with a strong inner make-up.

And on top of it all: inexhaustible mercy had filled him to overflowing (what perfect timing, one wants to shout) with the prodigious turbulence that overwhelms a heart which, under the onrush of again being loved, decides to love in return...

Yes, this too.

Now, when the door closes behind someone so perfectly favored and gifted, one feels that one may confidently abandon him to such a magnificently furnished solitude.

And yet the fragmentary notes and drafts of letters, which record the close of that remarkable winter, describe a failure, a horrible and distressing loss.

The writer (after the fact, obviously) has gathered these loose pages under the title "Testament," probably because these insights into his peculiar fate express a will bound to remain his last, even if the task of many years still awaits his heart.


"Mais j'accuse surtout celui qui se comporte contre sa volonté"
—Jean Moréas (in April)

Spring—which this year has prevailed so early that the shining dandelions have already bloomed into puffballs and cardamine stands in the meadows—has never been propitious to my mind; its powers do not pull towards that inwardness which has to be attempted now, however, after these many lost months, in the final days in this nurturing shelter.

Just when the relations to the beloved were peaceful enough for me to foresee a stretch of time during which I would be able to belong to myself with undivided attention, a small building, which I took for a barn and to which I paid no further attention, began to take shape near the park's exit. It turned out to be an electric saw mill which has been whining and buzzing unremittingly for ten days now. My peace is destroyed. I realize that what I had planned was not to be tackled as a last minute make-up exercise, like a school assignment put off with guilty conscience. The time for work is over. Now the saw speaks.

How accurate the judgment is. Strange: I realize how everything here belonged to me through hearing—from where it has now been removed. At night, when I wake up, or late in the evening (for they work long hours over there in the saw mill, at times starting their noisy workday shortly after five in the morning), that wide and pure space of hearing I had been allowed to inhabit for so long, reasserts itself with indescribable gentleness. Just now it started up again, "called up" so to speak by the little bird voices; its center, however, has always remained the fountain, and now I lie here in the night taking leave of it. This was it, this was what should have shaped me throughout these many, many weeks of steady listening. How I understood it immediately, how I took it in, from the very first day: the multiform metamorphosis of its tumbling waters. The slightest breath of air changed it, and when all became perfectly still around it, the suddenly isolated jet fell back upon itself, resonated in and of itself, completely different from when it played over the water's surface. Speak, I said to the fountain, and listened. Speak, I said, and my whole being harkened to it. Speak, you pure meeting of lightness and Heaviness, you light-headedness of weight, you toy-tree, you parable under the laden sorrow-trees worrying under their bark.

And with a spontaneous and innocent cunning of my heart—so that there would be nothing but this, from which I wanted to learn how to be—I equated the fountain with the Beloved, the faraway, the restrained, the silent.

Ah, we were agreed that silence should reign between us: it was to be this winter's law, a hard and powerful law—but in return our mildness would set in, not only ours, the mildness of the accomplished work would be in my heart. Perhaps—the need was so huge-we would have been strong enough to remain silent—it was not we who broke it, it was the mouth of fate which opened and spews us with news. For love is the true climate of fate; no matter how widely it draws its orbit through the heavens, its milky way with billions of the blood's stars, the land beneath these heavens is pregnant with calamities. Not even the gods, in the metamorphoses of their passions, were powerful enough to free the earthly beloved, scared and fleeing, from the entanglements of this fertile soil.

Is what I am writing here madness? Why don't the lovers' letters ever address this dilemma? Ah, their worries are different. It always looks as if the lover swung her beloved higher than he was ever able to throw himself. Her desire for him makes him more beautiful and capable. The anticipation of her open arms gives wings to his race. His performance clarifies itself in the lineaments of happiness, where otherwise it would have run over into murky yearnings. Only now, at her breast, did work become exuberant and sweet for the laboring man—and rest, infinite. Only now did fear, the precipitate of his boyhood nights, dissolve, only now did he see through to the ground of night.

And if there is a disturbance in his joy, it arises from obstacles, hindrances or threats to this union; all misery is gathered in this one worry: to lose each other; and nowhere is there doubt, except in jealousy.

But how about him who already knew it? He, in whose heart Loneliness had outstripped the loved one? From early on he knew Her pure face. As he took flight from family resemblances surrounding him and trying, over and over, to claim him, Her face became his future: through Her eyes he gazed upon the Open. His small hand came quietly to rest in Hers, which led and never took possession. As he grew up, he gradually became aware of Her tall figure—back then She would at times step up and test him like a spear.

And later She threw him.

Ah, with what could the lover surprise him, for whom this election had become conscious and more than memory: the pleasure of the arm drawn back, the thrust—and, oh, the trembling in the target.

And yet who had praised the lover more, who had yearned more for the loved one, than this man, used by the gods, whose fate had already been decided!

It was as if, from that trajectory, which he followed with the strength of loneliness, he had recognized her form more perfectly than anyone before him. And from that knowledge, which was infinite, an infinite privation grew for him.

He fled before her, by calling her. He somehow felt compelled to remain exposed to her, to bear with her, to weather her. For was there not a lack in his urge, that had to be lived up to, as long as he feared and avoided this demanding woman? Didn't this last minute avoidance of his feelings for her falsify his feeling about everything? Was this fear of being loved, which came from the earliest sufferings of his childhood and had never left him, a warning he had to heed to the end, or was what mattered that he be healed from it, as from his oldest error?

Did that lover exist who was not an obstacle, who did not slow him down and deflect him into the tarryings of love? She who understood that he was thrown way beyond her, when he pierced her? The blissful one who acquiesced to his great thrownness, who did not think of stealing him and of keeping him surreptitiously, and who did not race ahead to block his trajectory again and again? one perhaps already abandoned, who would take the risk, no matter how often he could still be hurled through her and into the target, by the hand of his Goddess?

Oh, if she existed, then there was help for him, as there had been a different help for him, when as an adolescent, he came to Russia. The afflictions of his childhood had brought it about that until the end of his second decade he lived in the assumption that he was confronting, singly and alone, a hostile world, that he was rebelling, day after day, against the overbearing power of everybody. The outcome of this mistaken attitude, no matter the honesty of the emotions, could only be something distorted, unhealthy. Russia gently released him from the evil spell of this prejudice—not by slowly convincing him, but overnight: literally, during his first night in Moscow. Without boasting about it, effortlessly, as if through a pure season of the heart this conciliatory country offered him unending proof to the contrary. How he believed it, how that country charmed him into being brotherly, And even though he has always remained a beginner in professing this harmony (perhaps because he could not remain on Russian soil), he can never forget it, he knows and practices it.


Emotional experiences, strange emotional experiences, however, which coalesced much later in that specific occurrence which I grasped very vaguely—under the image of the revenant, challenge my right to be completely absorbed in the loved one (no matter how infinite the space she may grant). No matter how much I have to admit the law of this accomplishment, in her center I appear to myself as simultaneously unfree and independent. My deeper conscience leaves me no peace, and the fear that distracts me is not that creaturely fear of sweet annihilation which arises from the center of love; it is the terror of a disloyalty which rattles me again and again, claiming, as it were, that I have no right to follow my inclination: as if the capital of my emotions had been apportioned and I were poor; as if, loved and loving, I took back the shares, distributed a long time ago, from unknown inheritors already living off them. Somewhere in the expanses of my emotional space there arises a disquiet, a reluctance; complaints I do not understand drift towards me, threats rise up in my being: I am no longer at one with myself.

But this at-oneness, unexplainable as it is, is the court I have stood before since my childhood. Yes, facing the eye-slits of their hoods, I live in that space where my hidden judges pass sentence. I have never left it.

My life is a special kind of love, which is already accomplished. Just as Saint George's love is in killing dragons, a lasting action that fills up time until its end, so the expenditures of my heart have already been put to use and transformed into a final advent. At times I am lifted into its center: an image of completion.

(The place of the princess, however, is off to the side. She prays for it to succeed. She kneels.)

Artist, do not believe that your test lies in the work. You are not what you pretend to be, and what this or that one, not knowing any better, may take you for, until the work has become your very nature to such an extent that you cannot do otherwise than prove yourself in it. Working thus, you are the masterly thrown spear: laws from Her throwing hand receive you, and together you hit the target-: what could be more certain than your flight?

Your test, however, is that you are not always thrown. That the spear-player Loneliness does not choose you for a long time, that She forgets you. This is the time of temptation, when you feel unused, incapable. (As if being ready was not work enough!) Then, when you do not lie there very heavily, diversions exercise you and try to see to what other uses you can be put. As a blind man's staff, as one of the rods in a grating, or as the balancing pole of a tight-rope walker. Or else they are capable of planting you in the soil of fate, for the miracle of the seasons to happen to you and for you perhaps to sprout small green leaves of happiness...

O then, bronze one: lie heavy.

Be spear. Be spear. Be spear!

This game of acceptance and refusal, in which there is much to lose and much to win, constitutes the "pastime" of life for most people and maintains their urges.

The artist belongs to those who have renounced profit and loss with a single, irrevocable agreement: for neither of them exists any longer in the law, in the space of pure obedience.

This final, free affirmation of the world shifts the heart onto another level of experience. Its elective choices are no longer between happiness and unhappiness, its poles are not designated as life and death. Its measure is not the distance between opposites.

Who still thinks that art represents that beautiful that has an opposite; (this lower case "beautiful" belongs to the concept of taste). It is the passion for the whole. Its result: equanimity and equilibrium of the totality.

{If I did not resist the lover, it was because of all the takeovers of one person by another, hers alone, unstoppable, seemed to me to be right. Exposed as I am, I did not want to avoid it either; but I yearned to pierce her! That she be a window for me into the expanded cosmos of Being...(not mirror.)}

The sudden (what shall I call it?) taking sides in love awoke in me audacious and unequalled memories: as if I had somehow felt that infinitely impartial once before...

Asceticism is obviously no solution; it is sensuality with a negative sign. A saint may make use of it as a provisional construction; at the point of intersection of his self-denials he perceives the god of contradiction, the god of the invisible, who has not yet created.

He however, who is committed to the senses, he who, on earth, has to believe in the purity of appearance and the truth of form, how could he start with denial!And even if it proved to be helpful and useful to begin with, for him it would remain a fraud, a ruse, a misappropriation—and in the end it would take its revenge somewhere in the lineaments of his work, as hardness, as aridity, as miserliness, as cowardice of the fruit.

Letters: how torn I was this winter; each letter a push, an assault able to topple everything, or else an intimate penetration that transformed the blood—

     and this, daily, during the time supposed to become that of my purest equanimity.

And after I had tuned my existence, for nearly twenty years, in the increasing clarity of my will, so that there could no longer be—there must no longer be—news that could touch its essential determination and change it.

A strange terror has remained in my heart that makes it unrecognizable for me.

(from a draft of a letter)
All these refusals, do not forget it, my love, have to do with your power. If I were free, if my heart were not bound like a star into the relations of the irrefutable spirit, then every word, from which rebellion is formed here, denial, complaint-would be Your fame, crossing over to You, agreement, the rush toward you-fall and resurrection in You.

If I were a man of graspable compass, a merchant, a teacher of comprehensible things, an artisan.


It is against the secret of my life.

In that the beloved draws all events towards herself, I become untrue to myself-, for now it seems to her as if, in the incessant flow, that which I have no right to dispose of, also drifts towards her. Partly her will is to blame, partly this seizure is due to her very existence. She had transformed the landscape in the lover's mind and inhabits one of its deepest places the valley, which drains everything.

The saw has been at it since early morning. My gaze, surviving as it were, keeps melancholically taking in these still apparently holy surroundings, the demolition of which ceaselessly occurs in one's own hearing. Thus it has on occasion been said of the dying that they are not deprived of the world through all the senses simultaneously. Their taste may be gone, their touch may have dulled, their ears may have failed. But they still look. They even still succeed in slowly turning their heads on the pillow, now and then, when a little strength has been gathered, so as to lay the gaze's frame over another part of the picture. It certainly is a relief to take one's final leave by means only of a single sense.

Without the intervention of the saw mill over there, I would have hung onto everything here unto the end, though without wringing from it that yield for which it was too late. I would certainly not have made the decision to enter upon such a gradual understanding, as I am now accomplishing day after day, and through the shock of leaving I would have finally encountered the desperation of the unaccomplished and, like a single boulder, it would have crashed down terrifyingly. I do not know what this would have done to me, but I am afraid that in me the form of the beloved would have been buried as if under a landslide.

Does the progress I make in all this (that that is what I am looking for, while being condemned to make myself aware of such difficult matters, should be treated with forbearance) does the progress I make reside in succeeding, in painful labor, to chisel away at that piece of rock above the head of the loved one, that in its fall would have destroyed her pure presence? (Where does its stone-dust blow? Who breathes it in? Ah, guilt has not gone from the world.) But she, the beloved, shall be guiltless for me. And this too may perhaps be taken as progress (as if it were only with "pro-gressions" (mit "Fort-Schritten") that I can distance myself from the scene of the loss!), this also, that I no longer call this conflict an abyss gaping between love and work-it gapes in my love itself, since, as I have now discovered once and for all, my work is love. What a simplification! And now this is, in fact, as far as I can see, the only conflict in my life. All else are tasks.

In military school I realized it for the first time; later in an infantry uniform. And now again: how every creature is, in a way, faced with just that heaviness which corresponds to the plane of its powers, even if it often exceeds them by far.

We, however, who stand at the incomprehensible point of intersection of so many different and contradictory worlds, find ourselves in the situation of suddenly being assaulted by a heaviness that has no connection with our abilities and training: an alien heaviness.

(When would the swan be expected to pass the lion's test? How could a piece of fish-fate end up in the bat's realm-or a horse's terror in that of a digesting snake?)

I believe therefore that, already as a child, I never prayed for anything but my heaviness, in order for that to befall me which is my own and not, by mistake, the joiner's or the hack driver's or the soldier's, because I want to recognize myself in my heaviest.

Only as a consequence of the confusion in the Human, unlimited and curious in all directions, which let everything happen to everyone, could the fall come into disrepute. How familiar the latter is, when you meet it in your own passionately empowered sphere!

Nothing should be preserved of that heavy "alien" affliction which one morning at four (it was still night and a cold rain fell in the darkness) drove me away and to G., just as I had entered here upon the work of my thoughtfulness. No one will ever know more about it than what I, gently calling myself to account, confide to these pages. But before I bum the small notebook, bound in blue leather, which I took with me on the trip back then, I want to report on its condition. Barely three of its pages are written upon; but that which tightly fills up these pages—apart from two addresses—makes the many empty pages so uncanny that I will also throw them into the fire, as if they were infested and plagued. Without changing anything in the least, I now transcribe, before destroying them, the meaningless words, into which my then capable mind decomposed itself because an "alien" heaviness had suddenly been poured over it, like caustic acid.

(From the destroyed notebook:)
(At the top margin the word:) nightmare--(then numbers, without order, small meaningless additions, then:)

silver joy rawness round lot dearer
infusion sand why never attention
ambush down envy glutton blessing addiction
gnawer path twig immersed fence legend credulity
wasp heart cinema (child) mourning dewfall
rumor ring gentleness evening cradle
living food bird wheat-ear lot no
baptismal-font anger murkiness colored applause
being pack-animal corrosion away fall-out
hairdo fences typhoon ah cradle may
January silver fog paths call letter
messenger Busta¹ memo car Timgad shore
feed-rack drink novice wink oh axis
shine finch tax storm stone Ribe
midsummer eve bonfire service august pose poseur
nun eddy spear rinsing lively
seam notch being exact burden hollow (?)
grip slaver claw exercise night-train eagerness
desert spear frenzy break-in rage run
trembling-grass afternoon everywhere hun-
dred healing yeast Wieburg spendrift
king thorn step ungood unworth gutter
keystone trill breach-of-faith shame east Fehr
casein comer wreath bishopric berry
bier bear dwarf chirp stamp bad

(New Page)

return darling diver bird's head
cold sweat necklace thon-frost vicuña
ring-band freightcar Liebknecht Agnese
yam guest role glasses will school
do-good Marie Iffland heartblood whimper
quitting-time Wendlandt descent
trace tracing decline Vierzug zander on-
looker Larde Ferilitzsch drip determination
only bast roar ballast nightheart will-
fullness clean ur-guest Billung ready
seam- duress Niefeln Hieber taking-to-heart
Ichthüs nomenclature Beinung judge
Regulus gallows military-power teasel spool
plays slowly but no music reaches
the round dance Naumann (and three adresses.)

¹TN: Words in italics are either place names or untranslatable Rilkean neologisms.

(draft of a letter)
As long as things stand this way with us, I don't know how to live—because I am as incapable of living if I know you to be unhappy through my fault, as I am when I make you happy in the way you now expect of me. If only at every moment I had been completely inconsiderate, in the freedom of my love! There is no worse prison than the fear to hurt a loved one. It falsifies everything. It falsifies every urge of the heart; without it, things would not have come to where I had to beg our happiness for every occasion for aloneness, as a special exception. My aloneness, this most peculiar characteristic of my existence: now it appears like a flight from our love—and how could it not always be burdened, from the start, by your wish that it shouldn't last long? And then: how do you want, on another occasion, to muster the strength to keep from my seclusion those repercussions that echo from and beyond the enclaves of our happiness?

Should I call myself unhappy forever (alas, and what is worse: creating unhappiness in the happiest of hearts!) because I cannot take love so lightly as to extract from it a mere enhancement of my capabilities? I never thought much of those who needed to be in love so as to motivate their spirit; how could I count on this impetus, given that the work itself is infinitely more love than a single human can set in motion in any one? It is all of love.

And so to me this rapture toward the beloved appears to be a particular instance of love, which spares or alleviates nothing-to the contrary, its very unresolvedness requires the most perfect effort so that all its demands may be endured, recognized and fulfilled.

Tell me, tell me—do I voice an exception, perhaps a confusion of my nature, in this which I seem so strangely commanded to suffer? Rarely has something like this been deplored, either because the attention of most people does not reach beyond pleasure and jealousy, or because that which had to be suffered in singular cases like mine, had always been judged to be nameless, ineffable.

Rare are those whose heart-throw does not have its end in the embrace; if they followed it further--they would perhaps see how, beyond, its curve takes on the odd acceleration of an impatience wishing that even this happiness were already done with. And further along it disappears into the limitless, and means—do you know what?—it means the path and the yearning of those who do not stop, who go on and on—of Russian pilgrims and Bedouin nomads who are driven on and on with their staff of olive wood...

Only he may dwell in embraces who can also die in them; everyone elects his dwelling according to (if I may express this frivolously, sensuously) his taste in death. What pushes those men toward their aimless wanderings through the steppes, through the desert, is the feeling that their death would not feel at ease in their homes, would not have its place there.

A Swedish friend, who spent a winter all alone at the edge of the desert, wrote to me:

"...landscapess of such vastness that one could have enough space in them even after death. At least for some time—."

{Despite all, my God, how rich, how peaceful, how complete I would be now, had this love been given me unconditionally, unburdened by the hopes, expectations and demands of a heart which, for fear of loss seems incapable of seizing its share of happiness.

Just as it caused me, who suspected nothing, neither fear nor worry, back then, when it lay ahead-so should it be here now, perhaps behind us (and therefore no less present, for what in it could be transitory!), perhaps always again lying ahead ... }

The principle of my work is a passionate subordination to the object that occupies me, to which, in other words, my love belongs.

The reversal of this subordination finally occurs-surprising even me—in the creative act suddenly welling up in me, in which I conquer as guiltlessly as I was pure and innocent in my subordination during the previous phase.

For a heart that performs under such circumstances, being loved is perhaps always bound to be disastrous. It also subordinates itself, as is its wont, to the lover, whom it does not have to form, but whom it tempts, because of its infinite acquiescence, to increasing usurpations. And the reversal, which in this case would simply be the love for—one is tempted to say, against-the lover can never work itself out completely against the latter taking the upper hand...

Thus the experience of love appears, as it were, as a stunted, impotent side effect of the creative experience, as a diminution-and remains unaccomplished, unmastered, and, measured against the higher order of that other achievement, unallowable.

Ah, I now live as if I had just arrived to spend a few weeks at this place, famous for its electric saw mill,

...without any particular expectations for this sojourn, the least of which would be too exhausting for me...


The Aloneness in which I have anchored myself for the last twenty years must not become an exception, a "vacation" which, adducing many justifications, I would have to beg from a supervising happiness. I must live in it without any boundaries. It has to remain this ground of consciousness, to which I can always return, without intending a quick gain here and now, without expecting that it should prove fertile for me; but involuntarily, unstressed, innocent: as to the place I belong to.

What powers have arranged to meet in my heart? ... They retreat when they find it inhabited.

One who, alas, when it comes to the true decisions of his heart, has to count for nought being loved and loving.

[How tired I am of making all these countermoves against love's seizures-where is the heart that will not "order up" a specific, willful happiness from me, but that would leave it up to me to give it the happiness that flows inexhaustibly from me?]

Striving and counter-striving: how tired I am of it all. Where is the heart that will not "order up" a willful happiness from me, but that would leave it up to me to give it the happiness that flows inexhaustibly from me?

But there is no agreement on that. Ah, for the struggles to be over! That it may be as in Girard de Roussillon's final laisse :

"Les guerres sont finies et les
oeuvres commencement."


Or Rimbaud:
Once to shake up language with an impetuous heart, to make it divinely "useless" for one moment-and then to leave, without looking back, become a merchant.


I knew it all winter: I have to think myself towards something. Alas—this is the worst loss: to have lost something unknown, something unguessable.


These days are among the most difficult. . . The displeasure of the unaccomplished now also attacks my body like rust; even sleep refuses its balm—: into half-wakefulness my pulse beats against my temples like heavy steps that cannot find peace.

If I were allowed to call you... but exactly that would destroy my last—:this court in front of which I recognize myself. You yourself wrote as much recently: that I don't belong to those who can be consoled by love. That's the way it is. For what, finally, could be more useless for me than a consoled life?

O, all that did not surprise me, the way it overwhelms the fools in their rapture. While my judges, with terrifying slowness, by the light of my happiness, read me the sentence, I stood by their side, already surveying the extent of their verdict.

But one evening I could bear it no longer. The protective, ever-giving quiet of the house and my horrible exposure at its center, threw such discord into my heart that I thought I could not go on living. Unable to read, and not even capable of gazing into the usually so consoling fire of the pine logs, I fetched some random folders from the shelves of the bookcase, which I had never opened before, and forced myself to turn page after page. They were reproductions of paintings from the collections of the great galleries, they excited me by their approximate and unharmonic colors, I don't know how many of these paintings I stared at, innumerable ones, turning the pages faster and faster: suddenly I became aware that all this time I had been thinking: Where to? Where to?

Where to, toward freedom? Where to, toward the equanimity of true existence? Where to, toward innocence, towards the no longer dispensable?

I came to, became more attentive, even alert. As if an internally anchored reflection had suddenly spilled outward, I became absorbed in the page that happened to be open in front of me. It was Jan Van Eyck's so-called "Madonna of Lucca," the lovely one, in her red coat, who offers her delicate breast to the sitting and seriously suckling infant.

Where to? Where to?

And suddenly I wished, wished, o wished with all the ardor my heart had ever been capable of, wished to be, not one of the two small apples—in the painting—not one of these painted apples on the painted window sill—even that seemed too much of a fate... No: to become the soft, the small, the unseerning shadow of one of these apples-that was the wish into which the whole of my being gathered itself.

And as if a fulfillment were possible or as if this-wish alone had given a wonderfully certain insight, tears of gratitude came to my eyes.

Occasionally, in the incessantly probing misery of these days, I am surprised by something like the prescient shimmer of a new spiritual joy: as if everything had indeed become simpler, and an ineffable fate made itself more graspable in its approximations. For is this not it, finally (if you have to voice it): that inside me light and darkness must not be determined by the overriding influence of one person, but only by something nameless. This is, so to speak, the minimum of my piety: if I gave it up I would have to return behind the first Cross Road of my life—behind its earliest, quietest, freest decision. Behind my self.

(Draft of a letter)

 Castle B..., no date:


To whom, beloved, to whom, if not to you shall I confide this difficult conclusion of my heart? If it makes you miserable, just think how great must be the misery out of which I write the following.

I have done wrong; betrayal. After six years of destruction and obstruction I have not made use of the circumstances that were offered me with B... for the undeferrable inner task; fate has wrung it from my hands. I have to admit that to myself.

You know, dear, how much those circumstances, from the most fortuitous to the most essential, appealed to me, how decisively I seized upon them. You wanted to do your part to safeguard them for me: we did not succeed.

On December 2nd, right after the joyful attempt to draft that Préface in French, I succeeded in writing down the first lines of that work in which my new inner integration was to express itself. on the 4th I was interrupted through the disagreeable task of my birthday correspondence, on the 6th the first disquieting news reached me from G.

You know what happened then; you know everything, there is nothing for me to tell.

You see, I am stuck with my small miscarriage of December 2nd, the work, the life, that fulfills me, gave itself away in it.

At times good, even blessed signs, at times distress and despair wormed their way into me—the upsets were endless, and you could not prevent them.

(To know that I should be made happy or upset only by my work, was of little help!)

And later also, now also, in these last weeks also, I was unable to bring myself to the consciousness of my natural solitude, from which alone I am able to gain control over myself. My heart had been jolted from the center of its circles toward the periphery, there where it was closest to you—why, there it may be big, full of feeling, jubilation or anxiety—it is not in its own constellation, it is not the heart of my life.

In our sweetest and perhaps most just hour, beloved, you assured me that you could now grasp all kinds of love for me. Ah, pull yourself together........., for the one, whatever its name, that grants me my life, the one that may even strengthen it. I cannot get away from myself. For, if I gave up all, all that was mine and, as I sometimes long to do, blindly abandoned myself to your arms, lost myself therein—then you would be holding somebody who had given up on himself: not me, not me.

I cannot disguise myself or change myself. Exactly as in my childhood I kneeled before the violent love of my father, so do I kneel now in the world and beg those who love me to spare me. Yes, may they spare me! So that they not use me up for their happiness, but stand by me to help me unfold that deepest, loneliest happiness in me, without whose Great Proofs they would, in the end, never have loved me.


Towards the end of April 1921, while living at Castle Berg am Ichel (Canton Zürich, Switzerland), Rilke assembled a number of fragments, notes & drafts of letters into a work called "Das Testament" (Testament). He gave a clean copy of the manuscript to Anton Kippenberg, his publisher, who later handed it over to the poet's inheritors who decided that it should remain unpublished for the time being. It was only in 1976, nearly 50 years after Rilke's death, that his estate gave permission to make it public. That year Insel Verlag brought out a volume containing a facsimile edition of the text, accompanied by a transcription, and annotations by Ernst Zinn (on whose work this postface draws for its information.) It was reprinted in the German edition of the poet's Collected Writings, but has sofar remained untranslated.

Rilke introduced the text with a distancing third-person narrative suggesting the voice of a literary executor trying to explain the context of the tortured & fragmented document to a future reader. The abstractness of the writing & the omission of actual place-& personal names make it necessary to fill in some of the gaps. When Rilke composed these texts, he had nearly given up the hope of finishing his poetic work—the first two elegies lay nine years behind him (they were completed in 1912) & in the intervening time, lack of that solitude so essential for his writing, combined with the upheavals of the war years, had kept him from producing more than a few fragments, except for the Fourth Elegy, written in one sitting in the fall of 1915.

Rilke, who had been based in Paris since 1902, was visiting his publisher in Munich when the First World War broke out. This forced him to remain in that city until he was called up by the Austrian army in November 1915. (He was to lose his nationality after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire & later became a Czech citizen). Influential friends arranged for the poet to get a desk job, & he worked for six weeks (not the many months he suggests in Testament) in the War Archive in Vienna before being discharged in June 1916 & returning to Munich, "the domicile of his waiting." After the war, & in the aftermath of the aborted communist revolution in Germany, he accepted an earlier invitation by the "Hottingen Reading Circle" in Zürich which, combined with Countess Mary Dobrzensky's offer to stay at her house on Lake Geneva, enabled him to leave Germany for Switzerland. During the summer of 1920, Rilke made two trips to his favorite cities: Paris & Venice. Then, in October 1920, Swiss friends, Richard & Lily Ziegler, put their small Castle Berg am Ichel at his disposal. He moved in on November 12 & stayed there until May 10, 1921.

The nameless "beloved" of Testament is Baladine Klossowska, with whom he had become friends in his Paris days & who was now living in Geneva with her two sons, Pierre and Balthusz. The French Préface he mentions was an introduction he wrote for a book of some 40 ink drawings by the then 11-year old Balthusz Klossowski (who would later simplify his name & sign his paintings "Baltus"). Rilke &Klossowska—Merline" as he came to call her—fell in love, & an affair developed that had many of the same features as Rilke's previous affairs: the need to be loved & close to the loved was constantly countermanded by Rilke's sense of his higher calling which demanded total isolation & absolute devotion to his "spear-throwing" .goddess Loneliness" for his creativity to unfold & his work to continue. (See also Rilke's Letters to Merfine, [translated by Jesse Browner, Paragon House, 19891 which presents the "esoteric" side of the affair of which Testament is the inner or "esoteric" working.)

After he left Castle Berg, Rilke cast around for a new abode &, with the help of Klossowska, found the castle of Muzot in the Valais. "Merline," writes Jesse Browner, "worked tirelessly to make the primitive manor livable, but she knew that she was not to share it if her lover was to achieve his ultimate aim. She hired and trained a new housekeeper, then left for Berlin in November 1921." In February 1922, Rilke did indeed finish his Elegi es & compose the Sonnets to Orpheus in one incredible spurt of creative energy. Although he & Merline had drifted further apart in the following years, Rilke's last letter—written on December 23rd, six days before his death—was for Baladine Klossowska.