“I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone,” by Rainer Maria Rilke

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone


to truly consecrate the hour.

I am much too small in this world, yet not small


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 wants during times that beg questions,

where something is up

to be among those in the know,

or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,

never be blind or too old

to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.

I want to unfold.

Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;

for there I would be dishonest, untrue.

I want my conscience to be

true before you;

want to describe myself like a picture I observed

for a long time, one close up,

like a new word I learned and embraced,

like the everyday jug,

like my mother’s face,

like a ship that carried me along

through the deadliest storm.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I was sent this poem late last night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the context of the poem in Rilke’s life, despite this appearing in many poetry aggregators. But perhaps that doesn’t matter: it’s the shared context between the sender and I that brings this poem to life. To me, she seems to be tortuously caught in spaces between. In the first stanza, there exists an unresolved dialectic: her desire to minimize herself and transcend her own humanity (to be ‘alone,’ ‘small,’ ‘an object’) and all its trappings and her desire for emotional intimacy (to be ‘in the know’ [secret knowledge] amongst those truly living). This first stanza is very general and unfocused.

In the second stanza, I feel there is a resolution in this tension. It is very specific and focused. It’s a big question as to whom or what the poet is writing, or to whom or what the sender intends “you” to be. An ideal? Me? Herself? An inert object? In this picture, I can see every crack and chasm in the paint. I can relish the feeling of that new word, nestled snugly in my brain, light on my tongue. The phrase “like the everyday jug” reads oddly in English, because it implies a jug that is mundane or not noteworthy, though in other translations from the German it can mean more like “daily” or “day-to-day”. I think of the mug I purchased at the Dali museum some years ago. I’m actually on the second mug, as I broke the first, but it is all the same to me. On it is a scene from The Persistence of Time. I drink coffee from it every day. But it is a daily part of my life, holding something that, while mundane, is extremely important to my life, giving life to me. Relatedly, my mother, who also gave life to me, is something else that is “everyday” but still so very special. In these things one finds honesty and truth.