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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
The bleak fields are asleep,
My heart alone wakes;
The evening in the harbour
Down his red sails takes.

Night, guardian of dreams,
Now wanders through the land;
The moon, a lily white,
Blossoms within her hand.
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,

poem
Fills now my cup, and past thought is
my fulness thereof. I harden as a stone
sets hard at its heart.
Hard that I am, I know this alone:
that thou didst grow—
— — — — — and grow,
to outgrow,
as too great pain,
my heart’s reach utterly.
Now liest thou my womb athwart,
now can I not to thee again
give birth.