Thoughts on “Initiation” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go…

(translation: C.F. MacIntyre)

It dawned on me that up to this point I have not shared my thoughts on any of Rilke’s poetry here, so I am amending that issue right now.

As I read and thought about this poem, two interpretations came to me. The first of these is that the reader is being beckoned to be initiated into the transcendent wonder of Nature. Rilke encourages the reader to leave the sterile and safe domicile and venture out into the wild, creative, and divine realm of the natural world.

The other interpretation I see is that Rilke is describing death as an initiation of sorts, marking the transition when the soul becomes one with the divine source. The house that he mentions is a symbol for the body, which houses the spirit and is the last residence of the soul “before the infinite.” The “worn-out door-stone” represents the tombstone, marking the transition from material to spiritual. Finally, the raising of the “shadowy black tree” that is being fixed in the sky implies that the soul is no longer rooted in this world, but is now being firmly planted in the divine realm.

I really enjoyed this poem a lot, and I will definitely be looking at more of Rilke’s work in upcoming posts. I hope you found this inspiring, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section.




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2 responses to “Thoughts on “Initiation” by Rainer Maria Rilke

  1. Beautiful and I agree with both of your interpretations. Rilke just always “grabs me by the throat” – not the best turn of phrase, maybe. Thank you for sharing, Jeff
    P.S. Is this also the-end-of-quarantine poem? ;))

    • Hi Monika. Yes, I know that you have a particular fondness for Rilke. As far as this being “the-end-of-quarantine poem,” that is a very astute and timely interpretation. We will all be initiated into a new society, with new norms and mores. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds as we transition to a post-covid world.

      Anyway, I hope you and your family are all safe and healthy. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your words of wisdom.