"God speaks to each of us"

Portrait of Rilke by his brother-in-law, Helmut Westhoff (1901)

God speaks to each of us, even as he makes us,
then leads us out of the dark in silence.
And the words before we begin,
those cloud-strewn words, are these:

Sent beyond the limits of your senses,
go to the edge of your longing:
give Me clothes to wear.

Grow behind things like a fire
so that their spreading shadows
always keep Me covered.

Let everything happen to you: wonder and terror.
Only keep going: no feeling is final.
Don’t lose touch with Me.
Near is that land
they call life.

You will know it
by how earnest it seems.

Give me your hand. 

"Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht"
Rainer Maria Rilke, October 1899
Translated by Frank Beck

This untitled poem, whose first line in German is "Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht" comes from The Book of Hours (Das Stunden-Buch), published in 1905 by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). It was written in Berlin, at Villa Waldfrieden, 11 Hundekehlestrasse, in the Schmargendorf district, shortly after an extended visit to Russia with Lou Andreas-Salome.

Rilke is one of the most important German-language poets of the 20th century, and no other modern poet has been more widely translated into English.

Berlin's Schmargendorf as it looked when Rilke lived there

Schmargendorf as it is today


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