by Rainer Maria Rilke
The wind now drives in winter's woods
The flocks of snow like a shepherd.
Many a fir awaits how soon
It'll shine a pious, saintly light,
Eavesdropping on–beyond. It stretches
Its branches to white ways, it's ready.
It wards off winds to grow into
One night of marvelous majesty. (trans. Callahan)
Es treibt der Wind im Winterwalde
Die Flockenheerde wie ein Hirt,
Und manche Tanne ahnt, wie balde
Sie fromm und lichterheilig wird;
Und lauscht hinaus. Den weissen Wegen
Streckt sie die Zweige hin - bereit,
Und wehrt dem Wind und wäscht entgegen
Der einen Nacht der Herrlichkeit.
Translator's Note: Rilke has enjoyed for some time a popularity among Catholics for the religious themes in his poetry. At times, this has emphasized the saccharine and treacly elements, glossing over the uncomfortable questions raised by his poetry. If you read the German aloud, even if you do not know German, you can hear the sing-song elements that win over the easy reader: the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme, the alliteration. At the same time, in the heart of this poem there are jarring enjambments where the sentences start and stop without reference to the external structure. We, like the fir tree, struggle and reach towards a resolution that seems just out of reach.
Yes, as St. John Paul II said, we are an Easter people. But in the struggles of this world, we remain for now an Advent people as well, and as St. Augustine said, our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.