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Rose, Oh Pure Contradiction, Joy -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Guest poem sent in by Tim Reynolds
(Poem #1451) Rose, Oh Pure Contradiction, Joy
 Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
 of being No-one's sleep, under so
 many lids.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
           (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Notes: This is Rilke's self-composed epitaph; in the original German:

        Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust
        Niemandes Sclaf zu sein unter soviel

The Tanith Lee poem [Poem #1366] reminded me of today's poem by Rilke.

"Lidern" could be a pun on "Lieder", songs, poems. Lips like roses is a
cliche, but lips like rose *petals*, clinically precise, a matter of texture
not color, isn't.


[Martin adds]

I find the line breaks in this poem confusing - could someone who speaks
German tell me whether they're more natural in the original?


  Another translation, and a biography:
    [broken link]

18 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Cat Pegg said...

I think Rilke liked roses a lot. I remember reading, in a translation of Sonnets to Orpheus, one about a rose. I can't remember it word for word, alas, but it was saying that, while a contemporary rose shared its name with an ancient rose, they were very different flowers: before roses were cultivated, they only had five petals.

Yet, it says, 'you are still a creature of air and fire'.

It stuck in my memory when most of the Sonnets didn't.

Why is it that poets mostly talk about Roses, not other flowers?

John B. Lambert said...

If German "lust" means joy and pain, couldn't the contradiction of
the rose be its thorns (pain) underneath its lids/petals (joy)?

matsumoto-kzo said...

<<"Lidern" could be a pun on "Lieder", songs, poems. >>
Lidern is simply a plural form of Lid (eyelid in English), no relation
to "Lied."
In this poem, rose should be a "bud ". Rilke likened petals of a bud to
eyelids of men.
Though there are so many people are sleeping in a rose bud, we can not
know whether they are alive or not. They look like men who are going to
be born, but also look like men who have been dead.
So he called such situation is pure contradiction. Because bud is not
contaminated yet. So it is pure.
If we can not classify the alive from the dead, we need not have a fear
for the death. This is the Joy he wrote.
This poem is the most beautiful and deepest that I have ever read.

Helen said...

On Rilke's gravestone the line breaks are quite different and it is all in capitals. There is also a comma after the word Lust.


My translation:
Rose, oh pure contradiction,
to be no-one's sleep under so many lids.

I interpret it quite literally. For Rilke, the rose is a contradiction.

Firstly, the rose is a symbol of love, beauty and desire (Lust), physicality, blood, life, resurrection, immortality, an active energy.

Secondly, Rilke associates the rose with passive death, darkness and obscurity, comparing its petals to many closed eyelids.

Helen said...

Correction re line breaks:


My translation:
Rose, oh pure contradiction,
to be no-one's sleep
under so many

Anonymous said...

Can't you translate it to:
Rose, oh pure contradiction,
desire to be Nobody sleep under so many lids.

I feel it gets a completely diffrent meaning then.

Domina~ said...

Rose, oh pure contradict,
Nobody is sleeping with so much to be under so many lids.

Isn't that interesting?

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Anonymous said...


Oh rose, how odd that
Under so many petals like eyelids
No one desires sleep

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