In memory of Rainer Maria Rilke

When you called out
to your women, they responded
by vanishing somewhere
into another life.

The alchemy of their femininity
a deep mystery
they entered
and you with them,

augmented forever
by vanishing somewhere
into that other life,
but more so reappearing there

as if they traveled, bodily,
in taking flight,
on one level, but also in actuality,
moving beyond metaphor

into the metaphysics
of the spiritual, by calling out
to them in the first place,
as the angel announced to you

the initial lines of the First Elegy
at Duino, the castle owned
by Princess Maria Thurn und Taxis,
with whom you found nourishment

overlooking the Gulf of Trieste,
who also wrote the Kaiser
shortly after war broke out
to spare you from the slaughter

at the front, due to the enormity
of your contribution to literature;
how that maternal love
called to you, guiding you;

how also carnal love called to you,
providing to you; as did
Baladine Klossowska, your last lover,
whom you referred to

in the familiar as “Merline,”
who returned your call
by alternately standing by you
then giving you the space required

for the depths of your solitude
at the Chateau de Muzot,
overlooking the mists of the Rhone Valley
near Veyras, in Switzerland,

where you finished the outpouring
of the elegies and the unexpected
gift of the Orpheus Sonnets,
the woman who buoyed you

for that sole purpose
of precipitating the great wheels
of those soul movements,
producing those torrents of words

as if you brought them down
from those surrounding mountains
like sacraments written
on sacred stone tablets;

but it was always in the calling out
to your women and the response
of their calling back to you,
Rainer, Rainer, as an angel would,

that moved your life in so many ways
like a river and all of its tributaries,
their responses to the calling
leading them to vanish with you into

another life, wondering how far your
life might reach, and where night began,
upon which, as you wrote,
to work is to live without dying.

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2011 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Competition. Poems and translations have or will appear in Asymptote, Chicago Quarterly Review, Commonweal, Poetry London, and others. Shanti Arts published his translation of L’Allegria by Giuseppe Ungaretti’s in August 2023.