Never In Any Joy Of Suffering

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Self Portrait

Self Portrait at 44

by Linda Pastan

How friendly
my failures have become,
how understanding.
Scraping chairs across the room
they sit down next to me
like family almost,
and indeed we have grown
to look alike.
One of them always puts
a log on the fire
and though its wet
and fouls the room
I am warm for awhile,
and drunk with yawning
I sometimes fall asleep
sitting up.


Rilke was Austrian by birth, but traveled extensively in Europe and eventually settled in Switzerland. During his travels he met novelists (Tolstoy, Pasternak) sculptors (Rodin) and painters, often working for some of them or using the artists he met for creative inspiration for his writing.  He died young from Leukemia.  Rilke moved in artistic and intellectual circles for his times.  His writing is deeply mystical and has inspired numerous poets I admire, Pastan, Bly and Lowell are but a short list top of mind.

I recently picked up a book of Rilke’s sonnets translated by Stephen Mitchell.  I recommend it.  Mitchell is a talented translator having tackled projects in addition to poetry on religion and spirituality in Chinese, German and Hebrew.  I am intrigued by Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (1993), Tao Te Ching (1992) and The Book of Job (1992).  I have at least five different translations of the Tao Te Ching, I would be curious to see Mitchell’s version.

I am always fascinated by self portraits.  Someday I would like to think I will have time to create another self portrait, maybe even one with paint.  To date, the stained glass, lead creation above is the only one I have ever done.  However, the idea of creating a self-portrait in words as a poem is intriguing.  Am I capable of depicting a faithful rendering of myself in words or paint? Interesting to consider.  Have you crafted a self portrait or more than one?   Where does it hang, in your house or someone else’s?


Self-Portrait

by Rainer Maria Rilke

The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows’ heavy arches. In the mild
blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child
and here and there humility — not a fool’s
but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight
composed yet not willing to speak out
when necessary. The forehead still naive
most comfortable in shadows looking down.

This as a whole just hazily foreseen —
never in any joy of suffering
collected for a firm accomplishment;
and yet as though from far off with scattered things
a serious true work was being planned.