Love According to Rainer Maria Rilke

Beauty is only the first touch of terror, he quoted during one of our first conversations.

I had recently finished a required course in Romanticism and was stumbling through an inarticulate explanation of my interest in the idea of the sublime. His response left me dizzy with the rare thrill of feeling implicitly understood. I knew his words were borrowed, but it was all mixed up together in the months that followed – a whirlwind of handwritten letters and a borrowed copy of the Duino Elegies and professions of love.  I had never read Rilke before and so I was in awe at the way his beautiful words seemed to expand inside me, making room for new thoughts and carving out places for new feelings.

When the dust settled, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been so much in love with a boy from my college as with a long dead Austrian poet and his idea of what love should be.  The college romance might be a distant memory, but I still hold to Rilke’s  exquisite vision of love:

1)  “That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.  To love is good too: love being difficult.  For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

2)  “Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”

3) “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

4) “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

5) “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”


2 thoughts on “Love According to Rainer Maria Rilke

  1. Malinda, You’ve captured something very true for me. I am in college, daydreaming about a course focusing on Rilke. Reading his work leaves me giddy, I almost feel infected, and I look around to see if anyone else is as mesmerized as I, not finding a fellow nearby I’m looking to expand my horizons, enter you. I also read your article “On faith, doubt, and growing up in the church,” which I also relate. I had the privilege last semester of finding a few other people who were also interested in a more conversational-styled “church.” We got together to discuss themes of Christianity (and arguably spirituality/religiosity(?) at large), a group with whom I felt so much as if on the brink of something. Anywho, to KISS (keep it simple stupid, as my HS science teacher would abbreviate), this solitude salutes you.

    • Malinda says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Athena. Happy you stumbled across my little blog. I’m always so delighted to discover kindred spirits floating out there in cyberspace. Love the concept of your conversational-styled “church”; what a lovely idea. I hope your group stays together and pushes past the brink you were able to glimpse. Wishing you a nearby Rilke-appreciating friend, but pleased to act as a virtual stand-in until you uncover one. 🙂

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