poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

occasions

About this Poem 

“Black Cat” was originally published in Rilke’s 1923 collection Duino Elegies. Rilke began writing this collection in 1912, but it remained unfinished for a decade before being completed and published. 

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
 

Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

Born in Prague on December 4, 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke is recognized by many as a master of verse.

by this poet

poem
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone 
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small 
    enough
to be to you just object and thing, 
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying 
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg
poem
Is he native to this realm? No,
his wide nature grew out of both worlds.
They more adeptly bend the willow's branches
who have experience of the willow's roots.

When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
on the table: it attracts the dead—
But may he, this quiet conjurer, may he
beneath the mildness of the
poem

Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers,